Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How to Correct Contrast with the Levels function, part one.

Levels magic

Levels is one of the most useful Photoshop tools I know of. It can be used to correct both color and contrast. It takes a little practice and some trial and error, but it can work wonders to improve your photos. I'll show several examples over time of how this tool works in various situations.

Right image: Final edit, Datura, 20"x20" R. Garriott

Today’s tutorial starts with an overly dark photo. This can happen a lot when photographing paintings with a lot of white in them. Let's see if we can fix it. (Note that it’s already been cropped and aligned as per tip 2. I've made a duplicate layer to edit on.)

Click Ctrl + L (or Cmnd + L for Mac) to open the levels dialog box
(it can also be accessed from the top toolbar: Image/Adjustments/Levels)
(Note: I've shown a duplicate file to better show how the levels works)

Using the default tab (Channel: RGB), slowly adjust the three arrows until the image is closer to your original art. I suggest starting with the middle arrow first:

  • the basic rule for the middle arrow is left is lighter, right is darker.
  • To darken your darks, move the left point inward;
  • to lighten your lights, move the right pointer back towards the center.
  • Make sure the 'preview' box is checked so you can watch the transformation.
  • If at any point you feel you've lost control, click cancel and start again.
  • Once the image is where you want it, click Enter.

This image will still need a little color correction, but you can see how much improved the photo is with this one simple step.


  1. Thanks for the lesson R. I really have no idea how to use Photoshop except for the quick fix!

  2. Nice succinct explanation. Thank you! I always used to use the (pretty arbitrary) Brightness/Contrast adjustment, washing out a lot of information along the way. One of my grandchildren persuaded me to switch to Levels, but I've been pretty hit and miss with it. Looking forward to more examples...

  3. Hi Michelle and Charlene, thanks for your comments. Levels are very useful and I'll be posting more examples of how to use this function soon. (I also used Brightness/Contrast and the Curves function until taking a Photoshop Wow! workshop; the Levels gives much better results).

  4. Thanks for this tip, R. I've become pretty adept with Photoshop by trial and error, but this should allow me to finesse the process of color correction even more.

  5. First of all, thanks for coming by my blog!
    second of all, now I have discovered ALL YOUR wonderful blogs and tutorials and fun!!! I'll be back a lot!!!!!