Learn how to master and control Levels to your advantage in Photoshop. Not only can you add contrast with Levels, but you can create a faded effect, you can reduce contrast, you can color correct, you can control individual color channels, and more! Check out this tutorial and see what you’ve been missing in Levels!
1. Levels Dialog Box
For the bulk of this tutorial we’re going to be using the Levels Adjustment Layer (because that’s just the best way to do it,) but before we get to that, I want to go Image>Adjustments>Levels and check out the the drop down box at the top of the dialog which contains a bunch of presets, we also have the option to “Auto” correct the image with the “Auto” button to the right, and the “Options” button beneath that will let you change the way Photoshop determines exactly what the “Auto” correct should be.
2. Levels Adjustment Layer
Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels to add a layer of Levels above your background layer. Dragging the dark slider under the histogram will increase the darker parts of the image, dragging the white slider will increase the whites. If you drag both inward, you increase the contrast of the image. The middle gray slider brightens the image if you drag toward the dark slider, and darkens the image if you drag it toward the white slider. I made an adjustment that would increase contrast and brighten the midtones of the image.
3. Output Level Sliders
Beneath the first sliders under the histogram, there are two more sliders. These are the output sliders. If you drag the dark slider inward, you flood the shadows with light. This creates a fade effect for your image. If you drag the light slider inward, you will pour some black into the whites in the image and dull anything that is bright, this can also be very effective for creating a low-contrast film type effect, or simply saving some detail in the highlights of your image if you feel that you are losing them due to too much contrast.
4. Levels For This Image
Because the skier is so dark, I’m going to open the shadows by dragging the darker output slider inward a little, but then I need to and some darkness to the shadows by dragging the input (upper) dark slider inward and also brightening the brights by dragging the input white slider inward a bit as well. I’ll finish it off by brightening the overall image when I drag the midtone slider to the left as I have in my screenshot.
5. Color Correction with Levels
In our Levels dialog box we have three eyedropper icons to the left. The black eyedropper sets a black point in our image. This means that the Levels will auto adjust the image to make that point you clicked completely black and pull the entire image along with it and apply a wholesale light and color change to the image. The same can be said for the white eyedropper icon, except it makes wherever you click solid white. The mid gray eyedropper tool will remove all the color from whatever point you select. This can be very useful when you have something in your photo that you know must be gray and have no color at all, this way Photoshop can adjust the whole image’s color by simply removing color from where you set as the gray point. I.e. if we have snow that has a green color cast, the entire image has that green color cast, but it’s not as easy to see it. If we correct the green color cast in the snow, we correct the green cast in the entire image.
6. Levels Color Channels: Red
We also have an RGB drop down menu in the Levels dialog box which allows us to access and change individual color channels. Here is a quick breakdown and how you push color in either direction:
- Red is the opposite of Cyan.
- Green is the opposite of Magenta.
- Blue is the opposite of Yellow.
- RGB-CMYk (Easy way to remember!)
Slide your input or output sliders while in the Red section of the drop down menu to slide more red or cyan into your image depending on which way you pull your sliders.
7. Levels Color Channels: Green
We know that green has the opposite of magenta so when you jump into the Green channel, we can use our sliders to pump green into the image or we can pump magenta into the image as well.
8. Levels Color Channels: Blue
Last, but not least, we want to go down to the Blue channel and we can choose between pumping blue or yellow into our image, again depending on which way we pull our sliders.
9. Watch the video!
Check out the video to see how we change the color of the haze and use a channel to mask our Adjustment Layer and also dive a bit deeper into working with the individual color channels within the Levels adjustment.
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