Fine-tune the tonal scale using the Tone Curve panel

The graph in the Tone Curve panel of the Develop module represents changes made to the tonal scale of a photo. The horizontal axis represents the original tone values (input values), with black on the left and progressively lighter values toward the right. The vertical axis represents the changed tone values (output values), with black on the bottom and lighter values progressing to white at the top. Use the tone curve to tweak the adjustments you make to a photo in the Basic panel.

Develop module Tone Curve panel

If a point on the curve moves up, it becomes a lighter tone; if it moves down, it becomes darker. A straight, 45-degree line indicates no changes to the tonal scale: The original input values exactly match the output values. You may see a tone curve that isn’t straight when you first view a photo that you haven’t adjusted. This initial curve reflects default adjustments that Lightroom applied to your photo during import.

The Darks and Lights sliders affect mainly the middle region of the curve. The Highlight and Shadows sliders affect mainly the ends of the tonal range.

  • To make adjustments to the tone curve, do any of the following:
    • Click on the curve and drag up or down. As you drag, the affected region is highlighted and the related slider moves. The original and new tonal values are displayed in the upper-left of the tone curve.

    • Drag any of the four Region sliders left or right. As you drag, the curve moves within the affected region (Highlights, Lights, Darks, Shadows). The region is highlighted in the tone curve graph. To edit curve regions, drag the split controls at the bottom of the tone curve graph.

      Drag a split control slider to the right to expand that tonal region; drag to the left to contract it.
    • Click to select the Targeted Adjustment tool  in the upper-left of the Tone Curve panel and then click on an area in the photo that you want to adjust. Drag or press the Up and Down Arrow keys to lighten or darken the values for all similar tones in the photo.

    • Choose an option from the Point Curve menu: Linear, Medium Contrast, or Strong Contrast. The setting is reflected in the curve but not in the region sliders.

      Note: The Point Curve menu is blank for photos imported with metadata and previously edited with the Adobe Camera Raw tone curve.
  • To make adjustments to individual points on the tone curve, choose an option from the Point Curve menu, click the Edit Point Curve button , and do any of the following:
    • Click to add a point.

    • Right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) and choose Delete Control Point to remove a point.

    • Drag a point to edit it.

    • To return to a linear curve at any time, right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac OS) anywhere in the graph and choose Flatten Curve.

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Get to the point

Gene McCullagh
Learn how to edit photos using the Tone Curve panel, including how to add and edit individual points on the curve.