A Tutorial: Photoshop Levels – Fast and Dirty

Mom asked how I got my pictures so bright, so I thought I would write a little tutorial. I am by no means an expert, I am just now learning what some of this stuff does, but just in case it can help someone, here goes:

Notes: I think this should work with just about any version of Photoshop, but for future reference, I am using Photoshop CS3.

First, open up the picture you are wanting to edit. If you are nervous about doing permanent edits to your photograph, just right-click and Duplicate Layer.

Now go to Image>Adjustments>Levels.

This will open up the Levels dialog box.

Now this is where things get interesting. In the Levels dialog box you will find, among other things, 3 droppers. One for Black, Gray, and White. Using these three droppers, you can set the darkest point, lightest point, and “tone” of the image.

To start off with, I want to choose the white point for this image, so I click the white dropper. Now click on the part of the image that you want to be the brightest.

If desired, do the same with with the black dropper for the darkest point.

If, at some point, you click by accident or don’t like the results of a click, just hit Ctrl+Z to undo the last change.

Now the middle dropper (Gray dropper) is a bit different. Instead of setting the black and white points, the middle dropper is used to set the white balance, meaning remove color casts (like you get from shooting under tungsten lighting). However, it can only be useful for this purpose if there is a colorless (neutral gray) reference in the image. That being said, if you are in the mood, you can get some interesting results by just playing around with it. Personally, I rarely use the the gray point dropper, I find I can get better results through other avenues.

It may take some trial and error, but I have found that this one little trick makes a lot of difference in how my photos end up, especially as I am still learning to take the photographs themselves. If I am not having much luck with the droppers, I often find that using the sliders under the histogram can be really helpful also. Don’t be afraid to play around and see what works best for you.

Before and Afters:

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