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Learn Photography

Photoshop Elements > Levels >

1 - Introduction

Levels is 80%


What Your Photographs Need

You can adjust three important parts of your photographs with a Levels adjustment layer:

1) Exposure

2) Contrast

3) Color

After using the Levels adjustment layer, you may be done.

It's a powerful tool.

Always Do Levels

Even when you know that a photograph doesn't need Levels, do Levels.

You'll be glad you did.

A photograph that doesn't need a little tweaking with Levels is rare.

Before & After

This is a photograph of pine needles on a rock.

After thirty seconds of using Levels, the photograph is much better.

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Before Levels After Levels

Create a Levels Adjustment Layer

1) Click the Background copy layer.

It's now selected.

The color of the layer is darker than the other layers.

2) Look for the icon that's a half black, half white, circle.

The icon is called Create a new fill or adjustment layer.

It's located at the bottom of the Layers panel.


3) Click the icon and select Levels.

Levels is the fourth item on the list.


4) A Levels adjustment layer appears in the layers panel.


That's because the Levels window opens.

5) A Levels window will appear in the Adjustments panel.


What's Important

In the Levels window?

Look for the histogram, the graph.

This is graph of how many pixels there are in your photograph.

Directly under the histogram, look for the three triangular sliders.


Ignore the two sliders, called Output Levels, below.


What Do the Sliders Do?

This Slider Adjusts the . . .
White Highlights
Gray Midtones
Black Shadows

Levels Are Easy, If . . .

Setting Levels is easy.

You just have to remember to look at the photograph carefully.

Look for the following.

• Shadows

• Midtones

• Highlights

When you're using the black slider to adjust the shadows, look at the shadows, and so forth.


Let's use the Levels sliders to improve your photograph.

Adjust the Highlights

1) Look for the highlights in your photograph.

2) While watching the highlights, click, hold, and move, the white slider.

3) Watch the highlights change.

4) Move the white slider back-and-forth until the highlights look good.

Adjust the Shadows

1) Look for the shadows.

2) While watching the shadows, click, hold, and move, the black slider.

3) Watch the shadows change.

4) Move the black slider back-and-forth until the shadows look good.

Adjust the Midtones

1) Look for the midtones.

The midtones may be grass, in a landscape, and skin tones, in a portrait.

2) While watching the midtones, click, hold, and move, the gray slider.

3) Watch the midtones change.

4) Move the gray slider back-and-forth until the midtones look good.