How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Photoshop is a reasonably daunting program once you’re starting. So that is the primary in a collection of articles to convey you in control on a number of the most helpful instruments to you as a photographer for modifying and correcting your photographs. If you’ve been a Lightroom solely consumer, and are a CC subscriber, do comply with alongside to start out your journey into Photoshop. In this text, you’ll discover ways to use the Levels software, together with Auto Levels and study to arrange Auto Levels to fit your private choice for the device’s response.

You’ll additionally take your first step with Layers through the use of a Levels Adjustment Layer proper on the finish. But first, we’ll speak a bit of about Histograms.

The Histogram

A Histogram is a graphical illustration of the colours and tones in your photograph. The backside axis exhibits the vary of brightness within the picture from darkish to mild. The aspect axis exhibits the power a given tone has at that exact brightness. Typically you’ll hear individuals say that the majority of tones must be within the center, however that’s not precisely proper. A night time scene of stars could have the majority of the tones at midnight area, with a spike on the prime. Same for a darkish product shot on a white background.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Histogram of a excessive key (mild) picture.

High Key photographs will are likely to have extra info on the fitting of the histogram, whereas low key portraits could have them principally to the left.

In basic, most photographs could have info all through the vary of tones. When they don’t, however ought to, that’s the place the degrees device comes into play.


To start, you need to use the keyboard shortcut CNTL/CMD+L, or select Levels from the Image>Adjustments Menu. This is a damaging model of the software, so it is going to throw away pixels. You gained’t be saving this file, so it’s okay for now.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

I’m utilizing a picture that I know is underexposed (you’ll be able to inform by the histogram under because it doesn’t contact the proper-hand aspect of the graph). Let’s take a look at what’s in your Levels software dialog.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop


You can save settings as a preset to reuse once more faster, there are a number of default ones that ship with Photoshop. You can select these presets and see each the impact and what’s been executed to get it.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Level presets that include Photoshop.


As properly as the general tone channel (RGB), you possibly can choose the purple, inexperienced or blue channels individually. This will change the colour stability of the picture and you should use it to fix white balance issues or to creatively manipulate the look of the photograph. For now, you’ll simply be utilizing the RGB channel.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Input Levels

This exhibits the histogram with three triangles (see above). Each triangle has a quantity under it (the defaults are set at zero, M.00 and 255). You can edit these factors by dragging the triangle alongside the histogram. They have names too. The leftmost is the Black Point, which controls the darkest tones within the picture. The centre one within the Mid-tone Point, whereas the highest is the White Point, or brightest tone within the picture.

If you progress the Black Point to the appropriate, all tones to the left of the brand new place are rendered as pure black pixels. If you progress the White Point to the left, because of this any pixel to the correct of the brand new place shall be rendered as white. Moving the Midpoint, (additionally known as the Gamma) it can shift the histogram the identical course successfully lightening or darkening the mid-tones. Left will lighten the mid-tone, whereas shifting it to the proper will darken. You may additionally have a perceived change in distinction as some tones on the extremes are compressed.

Output Levels

You can dictate the brightest or darkest level allowable within the picture utilizing these sliders. In basic, you gained’t use these as a lot as enter ranges.


OK applies the Levels change. Cancel ignores any modifications. We’ll take a look at Auto and Options individually. The Eyedroppers will let you choose the Black, Mid-tone, and White Points by clicking on particular elements of the photograph. Preview permits you to see the modifications you’re making on the picture earlier than making use of the impact.

In Practice

Now that you recognize what the bits do, let’s take a look at them virtually. You can see there’s an enormous hole between the ends of the mountain within the histogram under and the White Point slider. By shifting the White Point to the left, you possibly can brighten the picture and repair the underexposure.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Original histogram – discover the hole between the top of the mountain and the correct-aspect of the chart? This signifies underexposure and is definitely fastened.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Here the White Point has been moved to the left to the touch the underside of the mountain. This will give the picture brighter tones and pure white.

By holding the Alt/Option key as you slide, you additionally see a warmth map that exhibits the place and clipping (pure white with no element) happens. For the White Point, the display goes black, and the clipped areas present as colour. For the Black Point, the picture goes white, and once more, the clipped areas present as colour.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Holding Alt/Option whereas shifting the slider, you’ll be able to see there are some areas being clipped within the highlights. Move the White Point slider again to the appropriate till they disappear in an effort to have element in all areas of your highlights.

Here’s the end result:

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Fixing overexposure

If your picture is overexposed (however with out the highlights clipping in essential areas), it is advisable do the reverse. In this case, you deliver the Black Point as much as repair the difficulty.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

See the totally different left to proper right here? There is not any black within the picture on the left.

Low distinction

Another risk is the element is all in the midst of the histogram (low distinction or flat picture). In this case, you want to transfer the sliders in from each ends. Notice the rise in distinction between the 2 photographs.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop


How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

By shifting the Black Point to the suitable and the White Point to the left the distinction has been elevated on this picture.

While you’ve seen what altering the black and white factors can do, you also needs to know that shifting the midpoint will can help you brighten (by shifting to the left), or darken (by shifting to the fitting) the mid-tones in your photograph.

Auto Levels

Auto Levels, because the identify recommend, will do that for you mechanically. How Auto Levels responds is determined by the settings within the Options part. These have modified with time as properly, so that you is probably not conscious of this. Press Auto Levels for this to work.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Original picture.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

After Auto Levels has been utilized.


To change the Auto Levels default settings you employ the Options button.

Enhance Brightness and Contrast

The default choice is Enhance Brightness and Contrast, which makes use of the exterior Brightness and Contrast software to get a superb rendition of the file. This is the look within the model of the photograph above.

Enhance Monochromatic Contrast

The prime choice, Enhance Monochromatic Contrast is nearer to what you’ve executed manually within the earlier part. Here’s what it seems to be like (ranging from a recent model of the file). First the settings in Options.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

This leads to the next, extra dramatic, look.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Auto Levels with the default set to Enhance Monochromatic Contrast.

You can even mechanically repair the colour by clicking the “Snap Neutral Midtones” checkbox.

You’ll discover that the shadows are greater than somewhat crushed in these photographs, although. That’s due to the combination of the swatch settings and the clip settings under. Clicking on the swatch provides Photoshop the bottom shade on your blacks, neutrals, and white. In common, these must be black, mid grey, and white, however you possibly can set them to go well with duties like having pure white under 255 to render one thing when printed, as an alternative of paper white. For now, it is best to depart these on the defaults.

To forestall pure white and pure blacks being so deep, you must again off the clipping settings. Put them at zero%.

You’ll discover the discount within the blacks from this adjustment instantly. If you favor the drama, depart the black clipping at zero.10%.

You can have your photographs render this manner mechanically by ticking the “Save as Defaults” checkbox.

Enhance Per Channel Contrast

This setting emulates you getting in and setting every channel individually to get the white and black factors to the sting of data for every colour channel.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

This has the impact of adjusting each the distinction and the colour of your photograph as seen under.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

Find Light & Dark Colors

This choice is utilized by the Auto Color command. It finds the common lightest and darkest pixels in your photograph and makes use of them to get the perfect distinction whereas avoiding clipping.

Each individual may have their very own choice for which seems greatest on their photograph. So select the choice you favor the most and reserve it because the default. Now once you use Auto Levels, it’ll offer you a fast repair when you want to get finished in a rush.

Levels Adjustment Layer

Everything you’ve accomplished up to now has been destructive editing. You’ve been throwing away pixels, which impacts the standard of the photograph. Have a take a look at the histogram in Levels when utilizing the Enhance Monochromatic Contrast choice.

See all these gaps? That’s info you’ve thrown away. If you modify your thoughts, you’ve acquired nowhere to go, you possibly can’t get that info again. There are methods to stop this in fact. You might, for example, duplicate the layer (CTRL/CMD+M) and work on that. But you’ve gotten a fair higher choice; the Levels Adjustment Layer.

At the underside of the Layers panel is the Adjustment Layers choice. It’s a circle that’s half black and half white.

Click this to deliver up the out there Adjustment Layers and select Levels. (Note: you can too open the Adjustments panel by going to: Window>Adjustments after which discover the degrees choice, it’s the one that appears like a graph proper after the solar icon).

The Adjustments panel – Levels is the second on the highest row.

A new layer, referred to as Levels, will seem in your Layers panel. The controls for Levels don’t present as a dialog, they’re now in your Properties panel.

How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop

If you possibly can’t see the Layers or Properties panel, you possibly can flip them on within the Window menu. Using the Properties panel, set your Levels. If you’re not comfortable you’ll be able to simply change the settings as typically as you want, with out degrading the picture like repeated use of the traditional Levels software would.

For the aircraft photograph, I used Auto, which had Enhance Monochromatic Contrast, with zero% clipping, and Snap Neutral Midtones on, because the Default. I then brightened the picture utilizing the Midtone, set to B.15.

Levelled Off

Right people, in order that’s been a take a look at the Levels device in Photoshop. It’s one of the crucial elementary photograph instruments in Photoshop. I truly assume it’s a disgrace that Lightroom doesn’t have equal choices within the Basic panel that emulate the choices out there within the Auto choices (Aperture had buttons for each Monochromatic and Per Channel Auto Levels for instance).

Give the software a attempt, particularly in case you’re simply beginning to come to grips with Photoshop.

The publish How to Use the Levels Tool in Photoshop by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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