After Before Friday: Harbour at Dawn

The After Before Friday Forum is hosted by Stacy from Visual Venturing, it features a monthly behind the scenes look at various editing processes.  Featuring a gathering of photographers all keen to learn from each other, each week we post an image before and after editing.If you want to find out more, or just visit and look at the images, click on this link.

Keen to expand my Photoshop skills, I thought it would be a good idea to pick a particular element and try to understand it as much as I could and then use it in my After Before Friday post.  Although this sounds a lot like self enforced homework, I’m hoping it will encourage me to expand my Ps skills and give my ABF post some focus (pun totally intended!).

This month I was keen to understand the magic they call “curves”.  You hear it all over the photo community, but what on earth does it mean? I am not going to explain everything about curves, there are SO many articles and videos on the internet that already do this. My ABF buddy Ben has a nice explanation of it in his Digital Darkroom series. So, after many hours reading and watching all about curves, here is what I make of them, so far. Remember, I’m no expert (just learning!) and this is coming from a very basic level, so be gentle with your comments!

  • A “curve” shows the tone (or colour) distribution in the image from black to white tones (or colour distribution in each colour channel, red, green or blue).
  • Curves can be used to alter contrast in an image, to remove colour casts and to change colour.
  • Changing the “curve” of distribution alters the input to output of each individual tone, so, for example, if the original tone is black and you alter this so the output is a mid grey, all the black tones from the original image (input) will show on the edit (output) as mid grey.
  • They work the same as levels, but with levels you can only control three points (black, white and mid grey) whereas with curves you have greater control with up to 16 points.
  • As long as you create a curves layer (rather than using the top menu) the process is non destructive, you can turn the layer on and off and so retain the original image.

Curves are often used to make an image “pop” and to increase contrast, so I found this image I took earlier in the year. The image is a little flat and has a slight blue cast, I wanted to warm it up a little and increase the contrast. I have tried to do with the curves tool.

Harbour at dawn - before


Firstly I opened the image in Lightroom and before moving to Photoshop, I straightened it.

Then I created a curves layer from the adjustments panel (the button with the graph on it).

Screenshot 2015-06-19 11.08.13

I set the black and white points by bringing in the sliders on the input to meet the edges of the histogram.

Reduced the highlights a little and increased the mid tones to bring out more detail.

I increased the mid tones on the red curve, reduced the shadows on the blue curve to remove the blue cast and warm it up a little.

The sky was still very bright, so I added a brightness/contrast adjustment layer and used the polygonal lasso tool to make a layer mask to apply this only to the sky.

I then added a high pass filter to sharpen the image.

Then I brought it back into Lightroom and reduced the saturation of the bright red waterproof cover near the boats with the radial filter

Harbour at dawn - afterI have been practising with curves and still have a (very) long way to go, but now I feel that I have another powerful tool to process images that need an extra something.

I’d love to hear what you think.

There will be lots of other interesting After Before Friday images on Stacy’s post, so go on, pay her a visit.


20 thoughts on “After Before Friday: Harbour at Dawn

    1. Thanks Cee. Its quite disheartening when you take a picture of a lovely scene and then the camera flattens it, so its great to be able to bring it to life! 🙂

    1. As you have said before, they are a very powerful tool and I think it has helped me understand what they are for! Thanks for your lovely comment, Robin. I consider you to be somewhat of an expert, so I’m flattered if you’ve picked up something from my post. 🙂

  1. First thanks for the shout out I am, glad my series has been helpful. Now to your picture, the use of curves work well here you got the pop in the water and a bit more control in the sky. Nice editing.

  2. Oh, good for you, Katie, for the strides you’re making in Photoshop! I liked your explanation, thank you, and absolutely agree with all that your application of and adjustments to the curve layer really enhanced this wonderfully composed image. I love the clearer colors (especially the pink building) and the reflections are gorgeous. Nicely done!

    1. Thank you for your lovely comments Stacy! It was great to be able to bring out the colours in the picture and the curves really helped that. Just need to keep practising! I liked the pink building too, funny how you see these so much more at the seaside, it reminded me of candy floss! 🙂

  3. Definitely an improvement and I like your idea of self-imposed homework. I might try that with the next ABF as I have not gone anywhere near Photoshop yet! Thanks for the incentive!

    1. I had not even thought of getting Photoshop until they brought out Lightroom 6 and I got the CC subscription, even then it took a while to pluck up the courage to download it and use it. But thought that seeing as I had paid for it, I might as well use it! I have found so many helpful (and some not!) videos on the internet and although I have barely scratched the surface, I am working through it a bit at a time. I’m sure when you try it, you’ll be hooked! 🙂

  4. Same here. I updated to CC when it first came out how many months ago? And I still haven’t gone near Photoshop. Nor have I read anything or know anything about the Creative Cloud! Guess it’s time to get serious about all this tech stuff!

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