One of the new features in Lightroom 4 (LR4) is the added control of the RGB channels in the Tone Curve panel giving you control of color like never before. Previously you could only adjust tone with the Tone Curve panel but now, hidden in the Point Curve, is the power to adjust each RGB channel individually just like in Photoshop. Before this added feature the only way to add color to your photo in Lightroom was with the Split Toning panel, which is a great way to add a unique look to your photo, but its no replacement to the power and control of the RGB curves.
The Tone Curve panel was designed to give you control of your image with two basic controls, the Parametric Curve and the Point Curve. The Parametric Curve is the one shown by default and to switch between the two curves, click on the Edit Point Curve button to the bottom right of the Tone Curve panel (circled in red).
The Parametric Curve was designed to allow people to be able to harness the power of a curves adjustment without really knowing how it works. To adjust the tone you could simply adjust one of the four sliders labeled Highlights, Lights, Darks, or Shadows to affect those particular tonal areas. You could also use the Targeted Adjustment Tool (TAT) to click and drag on an area of the image you wanted to adjust.
When you switch to the Point Curve you get finer control over the tonal areas by adding individual points and it acts just like the Curves Adjustment in Photoshop. Add and move a point up and it will lighten that area of the image's tonal range, add and move a point down to darken that tonal area of the image. In the previous version of Lightroom 3 (LR3) the default curve was set to Medium Contrast but you could also choose Strong Contrast or Linear. Now in Lightroom 4 the default curve is set to Linear so you may notice your images a bit flatter in contrast to start off with compared to LR3. Medium and Strong Contrast are still available in the drop down menu.
Once you switch to the Point Curve you will notice that there is a label Channel where you can now access the drop down menu for the curve to each of the RGB channels (circled in red).
So what's the big deal with RGB controls? Before LR4 if you wanted any color adjustment, besides the white balance control, you had to open your photo in to Photoshop. To adjust any RGB colors you had to use either the Curves or Levels adjustments. Now you have the control here in Lightroom which for some photographers will be one less step needed outside of Lightroom and that's great news for those who like to be efficient and fast. There were many times I opened a photo in Photoshop just to add a color curve to my image. This is going to be a big time saver.
Lets take a look at some samples to get an idea of what were getting new in LR4's Tone Curve panel. I took this photo above from a friend, Los Angeles based fashion photographer Luis Aguirre, and adjusted only the RGB channels in the Tone Curve.
Luxury Blue: This version is created with heavy moves in the highlights primarily to the red and green channels.
Fashion Warm Red: This version has a big move in the shadows of the red channel and the highlights of the blue channel.
Retro Polaroid: This classic polaroid look is created with a big move in the blue channel to both highlights and shadows.
As you can see, this is a great new feature in Lightroom 4 and I think it will save lots of time adjusting color. Frankly, I'm surprised that nobody is talking about it. It might also take a bit to get used to adjusting the RGB colors if you're new to the curves adjustment. Be sure to download my RGB Color Cheat Sheet to assist you with your color moves or sign up for my Photoshop class to learn all about Curves adjustments.
I hope you get a lot out of Lightroom 4's new Tone Curve and if you like, you can download a set of Lightroom presets which adjust the color just like the samples above. To import the presets to Lightroom, Control-click (Mac OS) or right-click (Windows) the area where you want the preset to appear and choose Import. Then, double-click the preset template file to import. Give them a try and let me know what you think. Be sure to Like us on Facebook to keep up with all the new articles.