Elements does have curves. Enhance>Adjust Color>Adjust Color Curves. Now, it's pretty paltry compared to PS curves, but it is there. If you have windows, you should check out the free easy filter curves:
Whether you use windows or a mac, you can also add a curves adjustment layer from many of the add-on sites. However, in recent versions of PSE you will be limited to adjusting only the combined RGB channel, just as you are with the PSE built-in version. The only advantage is using a graph instead of sliders so you have more tweaky adjustments.
Yes, I know about Color Curves, but it is weak compared to the real thing.
Also, I do have Curves plug ins, but I have not been able to find one that allows me to create an adjustment layer. Do you know of any? Or, if the curves plug in can be used to behave as an adjustment layer, in much the same way the other built-in adjustment layers act?
Grant's tools, Richard Lynch's tools, Elements+, for starters. But as I say, you will be subject to the limitations adobe put into the underlying code of PSE starting in PSE 4. Although the easyfilter plug-in doesn't create an adjustment layer, I think it gives you more flexibility than any of these do.
Perhaps you might have a better way to use it than I do.
I've used some of these plug ins for curves.
I usually create a new layer from merging the visible layers into the new layer. Then I apply the curves plug in.
The problem here is now that layer locks me in to the adjustments I have done before, even if they are all layer adjustments, because I will apply the curves to the new layer, and then dup that layer for further adjustments, such as healing, cloning, clean up, etc.
Is this how you would approach it? Or, do you have another way that is more flexible?
I found a sort of answer to what I was looking for.
I have a copy of Advanced Photoshop Elements 7 by Philip Andrews and just happened to read that on the companion Web site for the book (photoshopelements.net) he has some PSD files that were created in Photoshop and the adjustment layers in them can be dropped into an elements file to take advantage of those settings (although you can't really tweak them). I just downloaded them and will see how they perform. I guess if one has access to a friend's copy of Photoshop, he or she can create a number of curves adjustment layers, name and save them for use in Elements. Not perfect, but something at least.
No, what you're doing is what you have to do if you do it that way. But even a curves adjustment layer doesn't allow to go back and tweak it: you have to throw it out and create a new one (although I realize that's still more flexible than the plug-in, in that respect). It's less flexible in that you don't have as many ways to adjust to begin with, not in a curves adjustment layer in PSE.
Yes, it is limited, but with a little bit of playing I am finding them useful. In the curves PSD from his Web site there are a about 6 layers of layer adjustments that you can drop into Elements. For example, you can drop a Medium Contrast adj layer in. Then, if that is not enough (and if Strong Contrast was stronger than you wanted), you could drop another one in, play with opacity as well as blend modes. Of course, not the flexibility you want, but if you don't want some of the advantages of an adjustment layer, this is one way to get some of it.
I wish we had a more robust set of adjustment layers in Elements, so this will have to make do, and when not enough, I guess I will have to merge a new layer from the existing and work from there.
You could try using a black/white gradient set to luminosity blend mode. This is the idea although the gradient that the author builds in this tutorial doesn't do anything for my images.