Amazing effects with Creative Curves in Photoshop

Curves make it easy create a wide variety of contemporary and vintage colour effects in seconds.

light leak

Mimic a light leak

What is it?

Recreate an effect that used to plague budget cameras, but – thanks to apps like lnstagram – is now all the rage. Light leaks occurred in cheap camera bodies, fogging the edges of film and shifting colours.

How to do it.

light leak effect

First, use a Curves layer to skew the colour channels by adding yellow and green. Next. add another Curves layer and drag the Red Channel right up and the Blue channel down to make bright orange, then hit Cmd/Ctrl+I to invert the mask. Paint with a low opacity white brush to reveal the orange around the edges, and experiment with different colour shifts to build up the effect.

Recreate classic solarisation


What is it?

Accidentally discovered when a light was turned on in a darkroom, and championed by the surrealist photographer Man Ray, solarisation has the effect of inverting part of the tonal range to negative.

How to do it.

First, convert the image to mono (Layer>New adjustment layer>black and white) then add a Curves Adjustment Layer and click on the Curve Pencil tool. Click in the top left corner of the Curves box then Shift-click at the bottom middle and top right to make a V-shaped curve (or try an upside-down V if you like). Next, add a second Curves layer. select the Red channel and drag the bottom left and top right points inwards slightly. Finally, select the Blue channel and drag the top right point downwards.

Get the cross-processed look

cross processed look

What is it?

Cross-processing involved either developing slide film in negative C-41 chemicals, or negative film in slide film E-6 chemicals. The results were punchy over-saturated tones and unpredictable colour shifts.

How to do it.

As the cross-processing effect traditionally had unpredictable results, you’re free to experiment with colour shifts using the Red. Green and Blue channels. Try making an angular S-shape on the Green channel and a hump-shaped curve on the Blue channel, then add punch and saturation with an S-curve on the RGB channel.

Make bleak modern art

modern art

What is it?

Turn simple photos into contemporary art by mapping blocks of colour onto the highlights. The effect works best on high-contrast scenes such as silhouetted subjects against bright skies.

How to do it.

First, crop to a square. then add a Curves Adjustment Layer and plot an S-curve to boost contrast. Next, double-click the White Eyedropper on the left of the Curve graph then choose a bold colour from the Color Picker. When asked if you want to save colours choose No, then simply click on the brightest part of the image to remap the tones around the new colour.


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