Using a Tone Curve for Color Grading

Understanding the Tone Curve

The tone curve is a popular color grading tool that allows you to control the brightness or intensity of the highlights, midtones and shadows in your video. The tone curve can be used to easily apply color grading adjustments to all the colors in your clip simultaneously, or to the red, green and blue levels in your video individually. Making targeted changes to each color independently will allow you to achieve more customized, subtle and artistic visual effects.

The tone curve works as an interactive graph. The vertical axis displays how bright a tone is, getting brighter as the point moves upward. The horizontal axis represents all tones in your image, getting brighter as the point moves to the right. This means that the point you click on the tone curve determines which highlight, mindtone or shadow you want to adjust, and the direction you drag that point determines if that tone is made brighter or darker.

Understanding the Tone Curve

Using the Tone Curve

The tone curve can serve several uses in the color grading process. Adjusting levels on the tone curve can correct overexposed footage, and make objects and characters pop on screen. The tone curve can also be used to adjust the balance of color in your video, or to create a unique visual effect. Typically, the tone curve should only be used for minor color grading adjustments, as significant changes using this color grading tool can quickly cause your video color to become unrealistic or visually distracting.

Use the tone curve in combination with other color grading controls like HSL tuning or color wheel adjustments to truly transform your video into a pro-level production. If you find the tone curve too difficult to use, explore instant color grading adjustments with LUT profiles!