Adjust the Midtone Using Photoshop CS5 Curves Panel

By Jennifer Smith, Christopher Smith, Fred Gerantabee

Using the Curves panel in Adobe Photoshop Creative Suites 5, you can fix an image created in less-than-perfect lighting. After you find the lightest and darkest points in an image and set their values, it is time to “open up the midtones.” This phrase means that you’re lightening the midtonal values of an image. Opening up the midtones adds contrast and brings out detail in an image.

To adjust the midtones, follow these steps:

  1. In the Curves panel, click the middle of the curve ramp to create an anchor point; drag up slightly.

    The image lightens. (If you’re in Pigment/Ink % mode, drag down to lighten the image.) Move only a reasonable amount and be careful to observe what’s happening in the Histogram panel (which you should always have open when making color corrections).

    Because you set highlight and shadow (see the preceding section) and are now making a midtone correction, you see the bars in the histogram spreading out.

  2. To adjust the three-quarter tones (the shades around 75 percent), click halfway between the bottom of the curve ramp and the midpoint to set an anchor point.

    Use the grid in the Curves panel to find it easily. (In Pigment/Ink %, the three-quarter point is in the upper section of the color ramp.) Adjust the three-quarter area of the tone curve up or down slightly to create contrast in the image. Again, keep an eye on your histogram!

    If you’re working on a grayscale image, the tonal correction is done.

    If you’re working on a color image, keep the Curves panel open for the final steps, which are outlined in the next section.