Thursday, January 22, 2009

Photoshop Tips: 3. Levels: 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"
(Note: I've been asked to write about photographing small impasto canvases by Judy Mackey; it may take a few days but I 'll write on this topic, too. Have a question? Please ask!)

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. Were you a graphic designer too? I can't believe how wonderful your training images are. Even I can understand what is going on. Must be the instructor. HUGS!

  2. Hi Sheila,
    You're onto me-- yes, I did/do work as a designer as well.
    Thanks, and I'm glad the instructions are clear!

  3. First of all, let me comment on your art.... very beautiful!!
    And as for posting these photoshop tips, you are so wonderful to do this. Very well done!!
    I came across your blog through another fellow artist, and I am so glad I did. I will be following your work and your blog.

  4. Hi Georgia,

    Thank you for your compliments! I hope you'll find the Photoshop tips useful.

  5. Thanks for this -I'll have to take time to read and understand!

  6. Thank you Adebanji, I hope you find the instructions easy to follow.

    I love your sketches!

  7. R- This EXACTLY the same sequence I go through when I am cleaning up my photo's (starting with the cropping)- then Level (Middle) adjustment, followed by any minor color corrections that need to be made (Color Balance)! The only other thing I try to do is make sure I have the actual art near the screen (as opposed to referencing the original photo) when I am making corrections so that I am getting the truest representation possible. Very nice/thorough tutorial! You are a wonderful person for taking the time to help others. -T

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  9. Thanks, Tom!
    Yes, whenever possible it's best to have the artwork right next to your screen, where you can look at it. I prop mine right up on the desk if it's small enough.

  10. Tom, Good to know too that use the same sequence of basic steps! It just seems logical to me but nice to know there's some artistic precedence.


Thank you for your kind comments! They always make my day.