Photoshop Levels Tool

As discussed in the prior post Show Me Your Histograms the tonal range of an image represents the amount of contrast in the image and is determined by the image’s distribution of pixels, ranging from darkest pixels on the far left (blacks) to the lightest pixels on the far right (whites).  One of the ways to adjust the contrast and make color corrections in your photo is the Photoshop Adjustment Tool Levels.

Disclaimer:  I am by no means a Photoshop guru, expert, teacher or anything of the sort.  I’m a lifelong student studying to understand the concepts that will make me a better photographer.  When in doubt Photoshop Help is the place to go.

Below is an picture of a little boy sitting on the narrow stoop next door to where I was staying in Santiago de Cuba. In this tutorial I will demonstrate how to I added a bit of contrast to the image below by using the Levels Adjustment tool.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 7.32.15 PM
Before image:  Straight out of camera image is a bit flat.

What is Photoshop Levels Adjustment tool?

It is a tool that allows you to fine tune the tonal range of your images.  Color corrections can also be made using Levels.  For example I use Levels to adjust the color cast of indoor concert photos.  In this tutorial we’ll only effect the tonal range.

How is Photoshop Levels accessed?

My preferred method for accessing Levels is via the Add Adjustment Layer option in the Layers manual.  This assures all the flexibility provided with layers e.g. blending modes, opacity adjustments, visibility vs non visibility, etc.

Photoshop Levels Dialog Box

The Levels Dialog box consists of the following:

  1. Preset Selections – List of default and User presets, e.g. Increase Contrast, Lighten, Mid-tones darker, etc.
  2. Selection of RGB, Red, Blue, Green
  3. Auto Button – Makes adjustments based on Options set via Image->Adjustments->Levels->Options
  4. Eye Droppers – Allow you to manually select the black white and neutral points by clicking  on an area of the image
  5. Image Histogram – A graph of the number of pixels at each tone and color intensity level
  6. Black, mid-tone and white sliders – Sets black, white and mid-tone points
  7. Input numerical values – Displays input values
  8. Output area and Output Level numerical values
Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 9.17.08 PM
Before image Levels properties prior to adjustments

Analyzing the histogram a considerable portion of the image falls in the mid-tones.

To add contrast to the image above I moved the white slide to the left to set the white point.  I moved the black slider to the right to set the black point.    Note the change in the input level numerical values. By making these simple changes the original rather flat image got more punch.  See before and after images above.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 7.32.54 PM
After image Levels properties

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