Photo Editing using Levels: the Basics

March 2, 2018

To continue our photo editing series, today we will be looking at adjusting highlights, shadows, and mid-tones using Levels. I will be working in Photoshop Elements 2018, but this technique works in full versions of Photoshop in the same way.

Here is my original photo. I took it with my cell phone, with the light directly behind my dog, Stella.

Using Levels Tutorial Photoshop SnickerdoodleDesigns 1

In Photoshop Elements:

  • In Expert Mode, in the top Menu bar, go to : Enhance / Adjust Lighting / Levels

In Photoshop:

  • In the top Menu bar:  Image / Adjustments / Levels

Since there are multiple ways to access the Levels box,  just use your favorite method, if you like.   This is what the Levels box looks like.

Using Levels Tutorial Photoshop SnickerdoodleDesigns 2

Our goal is to reveal more detail in the darker and lighter areas of the image, then we will adjust the mid-tones.

We will be using the eye-droppers to set our white point and our black point.

  • Click on the white eyedropper (far right) to select it, and then click on the photo at the brightest, whitest spot you see.
  • Do the same with the black eyedropper.

I clicked on the really light, white part of the fur on Stella’s hair, and on the black of her eye.

Tip: If you don’t like the result you get, you can keep clicking on the image until you find a result that you like. Or Control + Z  to undo and try again.

Using Levels Tutorial Photoshop SnickerdoodleDesigns 3

That definitely looks better than the original image, but now let’s adjust the mid tones. We do this by adjusting the middle slider in the Input Levels.  Move the slider to the left to make the mid tones lighter, and to the right to make them darker.

I moved the slider to the left (1.33) and this was the result:  (This is not a magic number. The amount you move the slider will depend upon your photo.)

Using Levels Tutorial Photoshop SnickerdoodleDesigns5

Before and After

I hope you find this helpful and that it is a technique that will help you rescue photos that you thought were hopeless.

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  1. Shelley Rodgers

    *THANK YOU* for making this tutorial available as a PDF. I prefer to have written instructions in front of me rather than need to tab back and forth between window screens!

    • Karen

      You’re welcome, Shelley! Thank you for letting me know that you like that! I appreciate it!

  2. Kathi Dax

    Wow! I’ve used the input middle slider before, but most of the time wasn’t completely happy with the results. Never knew how to use the eyedroppers before! Now I’m anxious to try and see better results. Thank you so much!

    • Karen

      I’m glad this was helpful for you, Kathi! Thanks for letting me know.

  3. Deb Case

    Thanks so much for all these helpful hints. I enjoy learning a newer and better way to do edit my photos.

    • Karen

      Oh, great! Thanks for letting me know, Deb!

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