Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Creative Suite

Using Lightroom’s Tone Curve Controls

Lightroom's Tone Curve controls provide a straightforward way to make tone curve adjustments based on descriptive criteria. They're not as restrictive as they might seem at first, as Martin Evening demonstrates.
Like this article? We recommend

The Tone Curve controls offer a new approach to tone curve mapping (using a term called parametetric curves in Lightroom and Camera Raw 4.0), where the tone curve is modified by making slider control adjustments. Tone Curve controls are presented in this way to encourage people to make tone curve adjustments based on descriptive criteria. If you’re used to working with curves in Photoshop, the Lightroom method may appear restrictive at first, but the Tone Curve slider controls in Lightroom may inspire you to create tone curve shapes that are quite unlike the curve shapes you might have applied when adjusting them manually.

The designers recognized that a lot of photographers just didn’t get how to work the curves adjustment in Photoshop. Hopefully, the Tone Curve sliders will make curve adjustments accessible to everyone. One great feature is that you still can manipulate the curve graph directly by clicking a point on the curve and dragging up or down to modify that particular section of the curve. Best of all, however, you also can edit the curve by targeting an area of interest in the actual picture; after you click the Target Adjustment tool, you can click over any part of the image and drag the mouse up or down to make the tones there lighter or darker. When you use this method of tone editing to refine the tones in an image, you won’t even need to look at the Tone Curve panel.

You also can use your keyboard’s arrow keys: The up and down arrows adjust the tone values. (However, note that the left and right arrows are reserved for navigating images in the Filmstrip.) You can turn off the Target Adjustment tool by clicking the button again or by pressing Command-Alt-Shift-N (Mac) or Ctrl-Alt-Shift-N (PC).

The four main slider controls for controlling the tone curve are Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows. The slider controls also provide a shaded preview of the range of shapes an individual Tone Curve slider adjustment will make. In Figure 1, I’m in the process of adjusting the Darks slider. The gray shaded area represents the limits of all possible tone curve shapes I can create with this particular slider in conjunction with the other current slider settings. For those who understand curves, this provides a useful visual reference of how the curve looks. Plus, you can edit it by clicking anywhere on the curve and moving the mouse up or down to make that section of the tone curve lighter or darker.

Figure 1

Figure 1 The Tone Curve panel controls are shown here with an adjustment in progress being made to the Darks. Notice how the histogram in the Histogram panel is mirrored in the curve graph; both are updated as you edit the Tone Curve controls.

The Basic panel is used to apply the main tone adjustments, and it’s important to understand that these are all applied upstream of the tone curve, so the Tone Curve is an image adjustment control that you always apply after making the initial Basic panel adjustments. The layout of the tools in both the Basic and Tone Curve panels is influenced to some degree by the legacy constraints of the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in. For example, the Contrast control in the Basic panel is mainly there to provide an equivalent slider control to the one found in the Camera Raw plug-in. So those people who prefer using the simpler Camera Raw method of adjusting contrast can continue to do so. More importantly, it has been necessary to ensure that settings applied to an image via Camera Raw in Photoshop will be recognized (and made accessible) when that image is opened via the Develop module in Lightroom.

I mention all this background as an explanation for the presence of the Point Curve menu at the bottom of the Tone Curve panel (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2 The Point Curve menu offers a choice of three curve presets.

In the early days of Camera Raw, some purists argued that the tone curve should always default to Linear, and if contrast was needed, it was up to the user to edit the curve. Meanwhile, almost every other raw converter program was applying a moderate amount of contrast to the curve by default. The reason for the default application was that photographers liked their pictures to have a more contrasty and film-like look as the standard setting. Consequently, the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in has evolved to offer three choices of curve contrast, with Medium Contrast as the default setting. So the Point Curve menu in the Tone Curve panel is mainly there to match up raw files that have been imported with legacy Camera Raw settings. The Medium Contrast curve applies more of a kick to the shadows to make them slightly darker and lightens the highlights slightly (which you can see by looking at the shape of the curve). The Point Curve is therefore nothing more than a curve shape setting that can be used as a starting point for making further edits to the tone curve, and mainly exists for legacy and compatibility reasons.

The Tone Range Split Points at the bottom of the tone curve allow you to restrict or broaden the range of tones that are affected by the four Tone Curve sliders (see Figure 3). For example, moving the Dark Tone Range Split Point to the right offsets the midpoint between the Shadows and Darks adjustments. Adjusting each of the three Tone Range Split Points enables you to fine-tune the shape of the curve further still. These adjustment sliders are particularly useful for those instances when you’re unable to achieve the exact localized contrast adjustment you want by using the Tone Curve sliders alone.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Tone Range Split Point controls.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020