The Tone Curve Panel of the Develop Module

The Tone Curve Panel of the Develop Module

This post was updated on February 17th, 2020

Adobe ® Lightroom’s Develop Module explained


In the previous article of this series, we explored the Basic Panel of the Develop Module. Today, we’ll continue with the Tone Curve Panel.
While this article focuses on the Panel itself, the next two will show how to achieve the different task on practical examples.

For what is the Tone Curve good?

The Tone Curve allows you to control four curves: a combined RGB curve, the Red, Green, and the Blue Curve separately. 

Tasks for the RGB curve:

  • Fine tuning of contrast and brightness.
  • Transforming a negative into a positive
  • Creating a matte look

Tasks for the separate color curves

  • Fine tune the color balance
  • Create a cross-processed look
  • Create a natural looking astrophotograph, as explained here.

We have a closer look into these in the next two articles of this series.

The Tone Curve Panel

Below you see the Tone Curve Panel as you find it in Adobe ® Lightroom Classic CC. First let’s have a look at the different points, which I have marked in the screenshot below.

Tone Curve Panel in Adobe ® Lightroom Classic CC

Target Adjustment Tool (TAT)

With this tool, you can adjust the tones for a specific area in your image. Say, you want to adjust a set of dark tones. For this purpose, you would click on the TAT and move your mouse/pen to the region in the image before clicking and moving the mouse upward or downward to make this particular dark-tone lighter or darker.

We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Hovering with the TAT over a tone to be darkened

The TAT is circled in red in the photo-section of the image above. While hovering over the photo, you will find that there is a new marker on your Tone Curve (circled in red here as well). This marks the point in the curve that will be changed if you now press your mouse button and drag the mouse up/down. The image below shows, what happens if I drag the marker a little bit down.

We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
After using the TAT to change one specific Tone

White Point

This point is the brightest purest white point in your image. If you move it on the upper horizontal axis toward the left, you brighten up the image. Moving it downward on the right vertical axis darkens your photo. In both cases, you can get to the point where white/black clipping can occur, especially if you do not move the Black Point selector too.

Black Point

This point is the darkest purest black point in your image. Moving it on the lower horizontal axis toward the right darkens the image. If you move it upward on the right vertical axis it brightens your photo. As a result, moving it too far on either axis can get you to the point where you are clipping whites/blacks in your image.

Channel Selector

You can choose between four channels: RGB, Red, Green, and Blue. Every one of them is changeable independently of the others. However, you are not restricted to making changes only to one channel per photo.

Reveal Sliders / Point Curve Adjustments

Clicking on this button reveals sliders for highlights, lights, darks, and shadows, in case you prefer to manipulate sliders than the curve directly.
In this view, hovering over the tone curve or the sliders reveals which area of the curve is affected by which of the sliders. It even shows, what a 100% plus or minus value for one slider would look like in the graphical representation of the Tone Curve.

We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Highlights section marked in the Tone Curve
Tone Curve with Lights section marked
We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Dark section marked in the Tone Curve
We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Tone Curve with Shadows section marked

Moving a slider to the right makes the corresponding tones lighter, moving it to the left makes them darker. So the Tone Curve sliders act the same way as the Black, White, Shadows, and Highlights sliders of the Basic panel.

We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Darks Slider adjusted to -37
Darks Slider in 0 (original position)
We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Darks Slider in +37

Notice also, that manual changes which you make to the Tone Curve before you open the Point Curve Adjustments Sliders, do not move the sliders in any direction. That allows you to combine a manual curve adjustment with slider adjustments, to create pretty crazy curves.

Tone Curve Presets

The standard preset is called Linear and shows a linear curve connecting the black and white point in a diagonal line.
However, you can also choose a Medium Contrast curve, which is a slight S-curve, and a Strong Contrast curve, which is a more pronounced S-curve.

Using the Tone Curve Presets

The curve presets are a simple way to add a medium or strong contrast to your image. 

We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Linear Preset selected in the Tone Curve Panel
Medium Contrast Preset selected in the Tone Curve Panel
We continue the exploration of Adobe ® Lightroom's Develop Module with the Tone Curve Panel. What is it good for? What posibilities does it offer?
Photo with Strong Contrast Preset selected in the Tone Curve Panel



All trademarks and copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

I am in no way affiliated with any of the products used in this post-processing process. I do not receive any kind of compensation for this article, it was neither offered or asked for.

THIS BLOG ARTICLE “The Tone Curve Panel of the Develop Module” IS NOT AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED OR SPONSORED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED, PUBLISHER OF ADOBE ® LIGHTROOM

All photos taken by Lille Ulven Photography.

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