Photoshop 001 - Level Adjustment

I like retouching my photos before I share them with anyone. My mother-in-law thinks I fuss about it too much but it's just me. One of the first things I learned doing image enhancements using Photoshop is manually adjusting levels.

Yes, it's easy to just use the Auto Levels function but there are times when the results just doesn't come out right. Then again it's just a matter of personal preference... and time constraints.

I'm nowhere near an expert. I'm just your average user, giving you my two cents on what works for me, and probably would work for other average users as well. I haven't really explored the nuts and bolts of the Levels adjustment because I haven't had the need for more than what I have been doing now. At least not YET.

So this post is by no means a comprehensive exploration of the tool, rather it is my version of a "quick fix", DIY on-the-fly.

I'm sure there's tons of helpful and extensive how-to's online that will probably provide every minute details of the Levels adjustment tool. If you have the time and if you really want to know the whats, hows and whys of the Levels tool, I encourage you to dig deeper. has a very informative article on the subject.

But for purposes of achieving a quick simple fix, to me, the following steps has worked without burying myself with the technical stuff, and I'm usually done working on a photo in a couple of minutes.

Manually adjusting levels is usually the very first step I do before I even go any further in my image enhancement projects. These few basic steps are more often than not, at least in my case, sufficient in getting the results I want to achieve.

Here's an example photo of a car lot that could use a bit of a nudge on the Levels adjustment department.

(photo courtesy of Hillary Russel)

While it's obvious it may need other enhancements, the very first thing I would do is adjust the levels to even out the light and dark values.

1) Pull up the Levels dialog by clicking on Image>Adjustments>Levels (or use keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+L)

The image above is called a histogram. By looking at the black and white pointers, I can tell that the white level is causing this photo to appear a bit gloomy.

2) So I nudge the white pointer to the left up to the point where more information on the histogram is present.

I decided to leave the black pointer alone.

3) On to the middle pointer, known as the Midtone slider. Here's where I use my eye. It all depends on how much detail I want on the photo. How much lighter or darker, the kind of effect I want to achieve. Usually, I go for an even balance of light and dark, blacks and whites so playing with the midtone slider often times only requires a light nudge to the left or right.

In this case, moving it to the left made it lighter and a bit washed out, so I nudge it to the right, to about 0.96. To me it looked better so I clicked OK. Again, this is a matter of personal taste.

See? Three simple steps.

Here's a comparison of the original unretouched and the adjusted photo.

BEFORE                                 AFTER

I hope I was able to get you interested on Levels. I know I am. I just haven't had the time to really go in-depth with it.  I would like to one of these days so I can share even more tips and tricks.