Tonal range and the Curves tool / 81 comments + post
online tutorials

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments on the earlier versions of this tutorial. I hope you enjoy it, and find it useful, now that it's finished.

Topics covered in this tutorial include:

• understanding tonal range
• introducing the Curves dialog
• setting white and black points
• altering the mid-tones
• basic S-Curves
• evaluating an image using the eyedropper tool
• Luminosity blend mode and colour saturation
• basic colour adjustment
• the ‘auto’ and ‘options’ buttons


oldest comments first
comment by David at 03:56 AM on 2 May, 2007

Thanks a lot for all. I will try to contribute to your work as much as possible. :)

comment by vishal at 02:09 PM on 2 May, 2007

hi thanks for the valuable information.....lokking forward to more tutorials.........

comment by Carole at 10:46 PM on 2 May, 2007

comment by vishal at 02:09 PM on 2 May, 2007
hi thanks for the valuable information.....lokking forward to more tutorials.........


comment by saleh at 11:41 PM on 2 May, 2007

well-written. waiting for more of the same :-)

comment by David Chabashvili at 06:06 AM on 3 May, 2007

This is a great start David. Thank you so much!

comment by Erick at 06:46 PM on 3 May, 2007

Je fais partie de ces gens qui sont passionnés par la photo, et je vous remercie pour faire partager ton expérience !

Je sais que la naissance de votre fille a bouleversé un petit peu le programme et que vous faites ce que vous pouvez.

L'éducation de nos enfants est le plus beau métier. La photographie est là pour en témoigner.

Merci pour tout.


(systran traduction =-\)

I belong to these people who are impassioned by the photograph, and I thank you to make share your experiment!

I know that the birth of your daughter upset the program a little bit and that you do what you can.

The education of our children is the most beautiful trade. Photography is there to testify some.

Thank you for all.


comment by m at 10:06 PM on 3 May, 2007

Bring on the next one, this is great.

comment by Gidi Morris at 11:24 PM on 3 May, 2007

The level of writing and presentation is very high, and I'd expect you to keep it thus.
Thou I am a bit disapointed by the level - probably because I already know this particular information.
In theory I would say that that is fine, but considering this tutorial exists on other sites, just in different wording (granted, your level of wording and presentation is higher than the vast majority) - I wouldn't neceseraly purchase the next tutorial.
Not neceseraly, thou probably ;)
Still, I was hoping for more revelations, and less reruns.

comment by Mark Palmer at 03:34 PM on 4 May, 2007

I think this is excellently written, and pitched at the right lever for the majority of users to your site (IMO). I'm sure there will be some people complaining it is too simple, or others complaining it's too difficult perhaps but this seems to be a happy medium. I think you can't criticise yourself for including perhaps unnecessary things because this is a tool to learn, and I don't think learning can be degraded by adding little extra bits in, in fact that might give less advanced photoshop users a better chance of understanding. I'm eagerly awaiting the rest of the tutorials and maybe some secrets behind the chromasia magic we all come here for. I for one will definitely be a customer :)

comment by drgourmet at 04:25 PM on 4 May, 2007

Personally, I'm really impressed with your tutorials so far! Although I have admired your work for many years now, I am a beginner in digital photography and editing (you inspired me to dive in!) and find that what you've written so far very informative and pitched at a level that I can understand.

As a result, I would definitely purchase the later tutorials. Keep up the great work. You deserve every success!

comment by Alireza Aghakhani at 09:53 AM on 8 May, 2007

Hi dear David
Thanks a lot for opening Tutorial page in your website. It helps to other photographer and students of photography around the world for be more professional at this business and art. Also it helps to your website to gather more visitor. God Bless You.
Alireza Aghakhani , Italy
manager of Persia at Photo

comment by Dion at 09:19 PM on 10 May, 2007

Hi David, I really admire your work and I think it's great that you give us a sneak peak into your kitchen. Will definately purchase your future tutorials! All the best to you. Cheers, Dion (A'dam, NL)

comment by Travis Lane at 10:40 PM on 12 May, 2007

There is one thing that will really set these tutorials apart--being able to see how you do the amazing things you do.
There are dozens of generic curves tutorials out there.
But the real difference here would be to allow someone to download the full size original and then follow your steps until they have your final product. That would really drive it home for people how to use the tools to get the effects that you do. THEN, once they have it mastered with the before-and-after, they can visualize and apply it to their own photos. But without the teaching aid of your before-and-after originals, it will be just another generic curves tutorial.

comment by Libby at 09:25 AM on 14 May, 2007

Travis - The downloadable tutorials will have the original images for you to work through for the reasons you state.

Gidi - The lessons here will cover the basic uses of the tools, as these need to be understood first. If you know this already, great :-) but we wanted to make sure everyone had the information available before they started working through Dave's images.

The downloadable tutorials will be at different levels depending on the subject, but will be presented in a way that everyone can follow - we hope!

comment by Gidi Morris at 01:17 PM on 22 May, 2007

Hi Libby,
Of course I understood why :) Just thought I'd taunt you a bit so I can get more from ya :p

Congratulations BTW!

comment by Brekkie at 12:40 AM on 24 May, 2007


Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and talent with everyone. You're a generous artist.

I hope all is well with you and your family; I can imagine how hectic life must be these days.

comment by Nacho at 02:13 PM on 30 May, 2007

Excelent up to now.

It´s seems to become a referent tutorial site, with the quality of everyday´s picture of the blog.

Regards from Spain everybody.

comment by Abhijit at 08:55 AM on 4 June, 2007

thanks for a wonderful tutorial. waiting to get more tutorials:-)

comment by Craig Knott at 10:40 AM on 4 June, 2007

The few pages you've written thus far are already proving very interesting indeed. Good stuff.

comment by paflechien at 01:38 PM on 5 June, 2007

Wow !
What a great work you did here !

Easy to understand and to apply !

Thank for all

comment by Fantom Poet at 03:26 PM on 7 June, 2007

I think the way you have presented this online tutorial so far is superb. THe use of the mouse roll overs to indicate both curves and histogram just had me saying wow. It I think is targeted at the right level and is clear concise and informative. I am looking forward to the next install

comment by David Kerr at 03:13 PM on 8 June, 2007

The tutorials are very good with a nice practical approach to the subject. In saying that any chance of finishing this one off ;^)

I would be prepared to subscribe/pay for further tutorial content.


comment by Seema at 06:45 AM on 16 June, 2007

Thanks a ton for your tutorials. Itsa boon for people at the other end of the globe who actually cant attaned ur classes..waiting for more..

comment by dimpols at 07:40 PM on 21 June, 2007

Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial, for sure i will do this once i get home (i'm at work right now)...i hope theres more to come...thanks again.

comment by Shrey Modi at 01:58 AM on 10 July, 2007

hi thnks for the info

nice and neat website :)

looking forward to more tutorials

comment by m at 08:52 PM on 10 July, 2007

Brilliant! I need more

comment by perico at 06:56 PM on 12 July, 2007

Gran tutorial. Pocas veces veo algo que esté tan bien explicado.

comment by Antonis at 08:31 PM on 12 July, 2007

Share your Wisdom with the underprivileged... We, the poor await your Light!

comment by ynot at 08:46 PM on 12 July, 2007

Very educating. Looking forward to more.

comment by riesenriel at 10:25 PM on 12 July, 2007

Thanks for this one, for us it's very educating and we're looking forward for more.

comment by Abhijit at 11:37 AM on 13 July, 2007

Dear David, Thanks for adding more tutorials. They are very very useful to us.

your friend from India:-)

comment by Justin at 04:12 PM on 13 July, 2007

Perfect curves tutorial!!! I used levels before and didn't know about clipping, thanks for the update!

comment by Kevin at 07:23 PM on 13 July, 2007

A crystal-clear tutorial for a novice like me.Thank you very much

comment by claudi at 11:34 AM on 14 July, 2007

Thanks a lot, I already knew a bit of the tutorial but the final part was new and it was put in such a clear way. I also enjoyed the quicktime movie. More of these is an excellent idea, the sound was a bit low for my laptop speakers. I liked the examples and the curves on the images. It worked very nicely. Well done. I will definitely subscribe....

comment by Hamish at 02:03 PM on 14 July, 2007

Thank you for a very informative tutorial, although levels and curves are a necessary part of digital photography there's a number of things you have explained very nicely that I'd otherwise take for granted or never really considered; I shall from now on though! layout-wise I feel I should say its great too - mouse-over examples greatly enhance the explaination. Thanks again! :)

comment by John Lambert at 09:02 PM on 15 July, 2007

This is an excellent tutorial, and one I'll return to often. One request, though, the embdedded Quicktime movie won't play in my browser (IE7) for some reason I can't immediately see. However, I know Quicktime works fine on other files. Any chance you could add a link to this movie as well as providing it embedded in the html?

Looking forward to the paid material as well as more installments here!

comment by Seema at 12:59 PM on 17 July, 2007

Excellent tutorials David. Used to do many of these things never knowing the underlying concept. Waiting to see more from you..

comment by Paul Pastrano at 02:38 AM on 19 July, 2007

Interesting tutorial. Looking forward to advanced information. Also, looking forward to tutorials that share a bit of "the magic." Someone earlier said it well, there's plenty of generic tutorials; we want a peak behind the "master's curtain." Thanks for all your "magic" over the years.

comment by Christopher Shipman at 04:36 AM on 23 July, 2007

Very impressed with your tutorial. GREAT presentation. If they're all this good, I'm really looking forward to them!

comment by FrannyC 'Digital Diary' at 10:10 PM on 3 August, 2007

I finally understand how to use levels and curves. I have several books, and use PSPXI, but this is the first tut, that explained this concept in a way I could easily and fully comprehend. Thank You.

And Congradulations on the arrival of your daughter, may you be blessed, as I am sure you will be. Because - you freely share your knowledge. \

comment by Peter at 03:00 PM on 7 August, 2007

Thank you so much for a clear and easy to understand tutorial; the first time I've really understood this area of Photoshop. Congratulations on the birth of your daughter, and I hope you manage to post additional tutorials soon, and are able to offer some more weekend courses!

comment by Lee Oades at 03:45 PM on 13 August, 2007

It is a rare treat that a photographer that produces such outstanding pieces of art, would also be able to produce such a wonderfully presented and explained tutorial. I've been a photographer for years, but have never really used Photoshop. As with any tutorial, if you are already in the knowledge about the subject then it is bound to seem too simple - but for me, to be able to see your examples of turning a "normal" photo into another Chromasia photo is magic. Sure, others might have produced tutorials like yours but for me, I'm interested in learning how you see these things, what your thoughts are and your workflow is. Access to the creator's mind. To me, it is this that makes your tutorials stand out.

Keep up the outstanding work, and all the best to the family.

comment by Naina Redhu at 08:34 PM on 13 August, 2007

Holy hell. This is brilliant. I believe there are multitudes of people out there who use Photoshop but don't really know what the hell they are doing - I am one of those and I hope to change that with your tutorials. I wasn't too sure about signing up for a membership but one look at the level of detail in this free tutorial left no doubt in my mind. Just signed up for a lifetime membership. This is very useful stuff. I have not come across a SINGLE tutorial on the web that details the process like you do in your tutorials David. Thank you!

comment by Frequent visitor at 10:16 PM on 16 August, 2007

Great, detailed, EXCELLENT curves tutorial
Thank you!!!

comment by Stephanie Daniels at 12:56 AM on 7 September, 2007

Thank you so much for this wonderful lesson! There is so much about photography that I will probably never learn, however, the ability to learn from other's lessons and experience is what will help us learn all we can. I cannot wait to take your lessons and sharpen my own style in such a creative outlet as this!

comment by will pattison at 10:25 PM on 11 September, 2007

excellent work, david! it may be information some of us already know, but you've done one of the best jobs i've ever seen of presenting it and breaking it down into useful details. i picked up new strategies and new ways of thinking about the curves tool. good job!


comment by jeremy at 03:23 AM on 5 October, 2007

comment by Paul Hocking at 01:42 PM on 9 October, 2007

I've been watching your work for a while, both because i live near (bispham), and because i have young children. I have tried to go to college at blackpool, but have been time wise unable, but also disatisfied with their, (as far as i could gather), lack of tuition in digital photography. I will be subscribing to your 'education', and may even see you at one of your weekends. Keep up the good and excellent work. Kind regards Paul

comment by Rich Collins at 04:39 PM on 21 October, 2007

Probably the most helpful tutorial I've read & practiced through. In fact I have been able to improve 2 images I took (while on a camping trip with my Daughter-as I read) because of this tutorial: The Curves Tool.

The reason I am so happy with this is you have not assumed ANY level of PS use & experience. You have clearly stepped out all of your instructions as well as shown direct examples of the work applied. It all comes together in a manner fitting of a true Professional. I am clearly interested in purchasing your Lifetime Tutorials. Additionally I think it is marvelous that you allow for a question or two following even your very generous free tutorial.

Full Disclosure, tongue in cheek, folks this is my first visit & I am not here to tout a friend's work. I do not know the author. This may not be the quick striking examples of free tutorials online found in so many places, but it is instructive & when I walk away from here, I will do so knowing I have learned what will last.

Thanks you so much for the time invested. Time I can't imagine, with 6 children, that you are able to carve out. Much success to you.

The question I have I will email you about.

comment by Lunamania at 01:20 AM on 1 November, 2007

Thanks for taking the time to write these--this is an excellent tutorial.

comment by Tom K. at 07:05 PM on 8 November, 2007

This is the most understandable tutorial on the use of curves I have seen yet......and I have seen many. Your teaching style makes a potentially difficult subject easy to understand and is extremely thorough. I thank you for putting this together.

comment by Osiriums Ventaka at 05:47 PM on 2 December, 2007

Never i have not think use the luminusity blend mode in the curves!

Good tutorial!

comment by Anton at 11:12 AM on 11 January, 2008

very useful text

comment by Gian at 09:22 PM on 12 January, 2008

Yaeh! very useful.

comment by desean at 09:22 AM on 16 March, 2008

Thanks so much for your well-paced and content-rich introductory tutorial.

comment by Alison O'Brien at 10:56 PM on 26 March, 2008

My tutor from Bradford put me onto your site - thanks,its been a great help with Hnd.

comment by Meissen at 10:28 AM on 29 April, 2008

This is already the third time I look about this great tutorial. now, finally, I wanted to thank

comment by Harry at 08:24 PM on 29 April, 2008

If the movie had sound I couldn't hear it.
But I think I got it from the silent film.
Pick the lightest and darkest spot on the face
and make the curve steeper between them.

comment by Darrell at 03:33 AM on 17 May, 2008

loved your tutorial. perfectly balanced between technical and layman and the pics were a HUGE help (visual thinker here). will be happily busy trying to apply new skills. looking forward to results :)

comment by Linda Stonebaker at 07:52 PM on 11 June, 2008

I wanted to tell you you how much I enjoyed your tutorial. It was well written and I found it easy to follow along with and now, be able to understand what curves are all about. I really saw the advantage in a single colour photo but what if you have a multi-coloured photo and only want to change the colour of one object without everything in the photo changing also?

comment by djn1 at 07:58 PM on 11 June, 2008

Linda: to just alter the colour of a single object you need to use a mask. Take a look at our masking tutorial which explains how this can be done.

comment by Abhi at 06:01 PM on 11 July, 2008

David, this is fantastic. I've been using levels and curves for years without exercising their full potential, because I never truly understood the fundamentals of the tools like I do now. Thank you, can't wait to check out the other tutorials.

comment by Kylie Greenan at 02:47 AM on 10 September, 2008

David, I am very new to photography and also photoshop and while I have some "CD's" that so quickly run you through how to get what you want in PS, I have never really understood the fundamentals, thankyou, this is been my first tutiorial here and I feel today I have learnt more from this than anything else I have seen. Congratulations on your wonderful work and thank you!

comment by Bob O. at 10:58 PM on 14 September, 2008

I'm new to photography and this was one of the best tutorials I've seen. I've read a lot about curves and how powerful they are and now I know!

comment by paula, rio de janeiro, brazil at 02:45 AM on 25 November, 2008

wow! this is helping me sooo much!
thanks a lot!

comment by Ronald Peixoto (from Brazil) at 11:14 AM on 26 November, 2008

Hi Dave!
Great tutorial, congratulations.
I think you can improve it by allowing readers download sample images used here.
BTW, I need to tell you that I love your book.


comment by djn1 at 02:08 PM on 26 November, 2008

Ronald: that's a good idea, and one I'll probably implement when I have a bit of free time.

comment by Leonard Leyba, Chicago USA at 12:55 PM on 11 April, 2009

I am a new subscriber to your tutorials. I can not thank you enough for sharing your knowledge about these post processing techniques. Your Tonal range and Curves tool tutorial is fantastic. I can't tell you how many books on Photoshop I have that don't really explain this subject with the clarity and simplicity that you do. Just this one tutorial has forever changed the creative quality I can now start exercising on my own photos. I can't wait to study your other tutorials. Again, thank you. I will refer every one I know to your web site!!

comment by Americanvirus at 12:35 AM on 23 June, 2009

Thank You! I'm glad I bought the subscription. I already feel like I'm growing by leaps and bounds.

comment by igoy at 08:05 AM on 2 July, 2009

thank you so much for this... ^_^

comment by Jordi at 06:47 PM on 24 August, 2009

This was a very nice tutorial!

I always thought that the digital processing was the point that I needed to increase the quality of my pictures, and with tutorials like this I'm sure I'll improve dramatically!

Thank you ;)

comment by Brian at 09:58 PM on 19 November, 2009

I'm just getting into curves - Thanks for the fantastic tutorial!


comment by Bruce Winter at 06:22 PM on 22 February, 2010

I use realplayer; sound works great. Thank you for the great tutorial, it really cleared up a few issues for me. All the best to you and your family, God Bless

comment by Lokesh at 07:46 PM on 30 April, 2010

Dude this tutorial was FREAKIN AWESOME!!! Thanks so much!!!

comment by ana maria mendez at 11:38 PM on 17 August, 2010

muy bueno, completo y paso por paso para la gente que no sabe nada. Gracias. Aprecio especificamente la parte de cambiar el blending mode de la capa de ajuste de curvas y la explicación del ajuste del punto blanco y negro de los levels.

comment by DCP Photography in Ventura, California at 11:18 PM on 5 September, 2010

Thank you so much for taking the time to lay this all out and demonstrate this here. Made some things clear that I have been muddled on for years.

comment by Luke Stanton at 02:47 PM on 30 December, 2010

great tutorial! very thorough and helped me grasp a better way to alter my portraits and make them look better.

comment by Jeremiah Jireh Fabre at 08:18 PM on 18 February, 2011

Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge. May you continue to learn more and share more.

God bless you

comment by Asma Hussein at 05:34 AM on 12 April, 2011

Dave, this is exactly what I was looking for. I needed to understand the concept of the Curves tool, and then go on from there. I couldn't find a better explanation, I wish I had found this page sooner.
May your work be as inspirational as ever. Best of luck.

comment by Graham Swanson at 05:52 PM on 23 April, 2012

I paste below Asma Hussein's comment at 05:34 AM on 12 April, 2011

'Dave, this is exactly what I was looking for. I needed to understand the concept of the Curves tool, and then go on from there. I couldn't find a better explanation, I wish I had found this page sooner.
May your work be as inspirational as ever. Best of luck.'

This expresses my feelings exactly.

comment by Rosana Ramos at 10:05 PM on 25 June, 2012

Hello David, I believe that photographic serendipity led me to you, as in "ask and you shall receive". I have been looking for this kind of tutorial for a while now. Thanks so very much