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3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop

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3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in Elements and Photoshop

Photoshop and Elements are often intimidating to new users.  Conquering the Levels Adjustment is a great place to start building up your Photoshop Elements comfort level.

Adjusting levels can improve many aspects of your photo:

  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • White Balance
  • Color casts
  • Dark or cloudy skin tones

Often doing nothing other than adjusting a photos levels will improve the picture greatly.  You will also find that many actions require you to set Levels as the action runs.  So to get the most out of an action like MCP’s Complete Workflow for Elements or Photoshop, you will need to have a good understanding of setting Levels.

Levels works its magic by asking you to identify which points in the image should be the darkest or the lightest.  This stretches out the tonal range of the photo and adds contrast if it’s dull.  Not only can you set the brightest and darkest points of the entire photo, you can also work on each color channel individually to doctor up color casts.  The screen shots today are for Elements but the lesson also applies to full Photoshop.

The levels dialog box looks like this:

Levels-tour 3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop Guest Bloggers Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

You can input your levels adjustments by using either the sliders or the eyedroppers.  Use the histogram (which is the black graph in the Input Levels section) to estimate how to make your adjustments.  The image measured by the above histogram is an example of an image whose levels are good – the black “mountain” is distributed fairly evenly across the graph and extends to the black and white sliders on the end points.  This leads to tip #1:

PSE and Photoshop Levels Adjustment Tip #1

  • Move your black and white sliders in towards the center until they are just under the base of each side of the mountain for a quick and easy levels pop.

This photo was taken by Nicole Israel, who wanted to make its bright colors even brighter.  The first thing I noticed was that the black blanket is a bit flat and its texture isn’t visible.  In addition, the baby’s skin is a bit dark.


baby_edited-1 3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop Guest Bloggers Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

I will adjust the dark areas of the picture by adding a levels adjustment layer, selecting the black eyedropper, and clicking on what I think SHOULD BE the darkest area of the image.  Note that I didn’t say click on WHAT IS the darkest area – here is where you tell Elements where the dark should be.  I clicked on the shadow of a fold of the blanket, where you see the arrow in this picture:

dropper-location1 3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop Guest Bloggers Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

PSE and Photoshop Levels Adjustment Tip #2

  • Use the black or white slider to click on what SHOULD BE the darkest or lightest point in your photo

Voila!  The blanket is less dull and has more texture.

darks 3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop Guest Bloggers Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

Next, I’ll brighten the baby’s skintone to get it closer to that porcelain look we like on babies.

PSE and Photoshop Levels Adjustment Tip #3

  • Move the middle Levels slider a touch to the left to brighten skin tones.

After moving the whites slider in closer to the base of the mountain to adjust the brights, I finished the Levels adjustment by masking out parts of the face and blanket that were a bit over-exposed, and bringing the opacity of the Levels layer down just a bit to perfect it.

Here are my before and after Levels Adjustments:

levels-inputs-before-after 3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop Guest Bloggers Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

My layer mask, so you can see the areas I chose to mask out:

layer-mask 3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop Guest Bloggers Photoshop Tips & Tutorials And the final image:

final 3 Tips for Using Levels Adjustment Layers in PSE and Photoshop Guest Bloggers Photoshop Tips & Tutorials This image, after a levels adjustment, is a great place for a quickie edit to end, or an even better place to smooth out skin and run actions on.

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No Comments

  1. Amy Fraughton on September 20, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Awesome! I use curves so much, that I haven’t taken the time to understand levels. thanks for sharing!

  2. cialis on February 3, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Hey man! I fully agree with your opinion. I’ve just added it to bookmarks.

  3. gusindra on October 28, 2011 at 11:16 am

    thanks for sharing^^

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