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Thread: Levels Tutorial

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    Administrator ricktas's Avatar
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    Levels Tutorial

    What are ‘levels”?
    simply, levels are the range of tones in your photo from deep black to pure white. A photo that covers the full range, but isn't blown out (to bright) or to dark is more visually appealing than one that isn’t. This is not to say that a dark photo or a high-key photo cannot be successful.

    THIS IS A BASIC LEVELS TUTORIAL, IT DOES NOT FULLY COVER ALL ASPECTS OF LEVELS ADJUSTMENTS.

    In Photoshop, to access the levels adjustment screen, click Layers > Adjustment > Levels Adjustment, on the pop-up screen, just click OK.



    In the Levels histogram above, the left is the darker tones, the right is the lighter tones. For more information on reading histograms, click here.

    A good histogram should begin in the bottom left corner, arch up and then come down and finish in the bottom right corner. Mostly though, there will be jagged peaks and troughs, rather than a smooth curve. A histogram with all the data bunched to the left is an under-exposed photo, one with all the data bunched to the right is an over-exposed photo. The above is an example of a good histogram.

    A levels adjustment can be handy when there is empty space at either end, before the graph starts to climb.

    There is no such thing as a perfect histogram.




    The above levels histogram shows a photo that is both under-exposed (note the big peak on the left edge) but also parts of the photo are over-exposed (see the peak on the right end). This does not mean it’s a bad photo; it just has very dark and very bright elements to it.



    The above levels histogram shows a photo that is under-exposed. Notice how the right end (the highlight end) is devoid of data in the graph. You can correct the levels of this photo by dragging the small white triangle (under the right end of the graph) in towards where the graph data starts to appear on the right.



    The above levels histogram shows an over-exposed photo, generally when the over-exposure is to this extent, the photo cannot be salvaged. To correct Levels here, the left (black) slider needs to be dragged in to the graph left side start. It is worth considering a possible black and white conversion, as mono photographs can look amazingly effective with over-exposed areas. The gaps in this histogram were the result of a small JPG version of a photo. JPG compresses filesizes effectively, but is a 'lossy' file format. Meaning that each time the photo is resaved it loses more data. The gaps in the above histogram show the missing data that JPG compression causes, effectively.

    How to adjust the Levels
    Underneath the histogram are three sliders, a black one on the left, a grey one in the middle and a white one on the right. By moving these sliders you can perform a levels adjustment. What you need to do is drag the black one in till it lines up with the edge of where the graph data starts to rise, the right one in to where the graph data starts to rise on that end, and if you want to adjust contrast, adjust the middle slider.

    It is a simple process of moving those sliders inward to the edge of where the graph starts to rise, creating a range of tones in your photo from black to white. A levels adjustment can do wonders to the final outcome of your photo.

    Below are some examples of a photo and its histogram, showing a before and after adjustment.

    Under Exposed Photo:


    Levels histogram for above:


    Levels adjusted photo (right slider*white one* moved inwards to touch edge of graph)


    Levels histogram after adjustment of sliders:


    I HOPE MEMBERS FIND THIS BASIC LEVELS TUTORIAL HELPFUL IN THE PROCESS OF IMPROVING YOUR POST PROCESSING.
    "It is one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it is another thing to make a portrait of who they are" - Paul Caponigro

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    RICK
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    Thanks Rick - very helpfull - I have always wondered what that middle slider did - now I know!

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    Nice writeup Rick.
    Michael.

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    "one with all the data bunched to the left is an over-exposed photo"

    Possible typo, shouldn't data on the right be overexposed?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sixfootfour View Post
    "one with all the data bunched to the left is an over-exposed photo"

    Possible typo, shouldn't data on the right be overexposed?
    Ah, thanks, I always have trouble with left and right. Comes from working in medical. We call them as they are to the patient, so we talk about left, meaning patients left, but its our right. Always stumps me. Will fix

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    Quote Originally Posted by ricktas View Post
    Ah, thanks, I always have trouble with left and right. Comes from working in medical. We call them as they are to the patient, so we talk about left, meaning patients left, but its our right. Always stumps me. Will fix

    ...riiiiight *mental note* do NOT go to see ricktas for that leg amputation!

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    Thanks Rick for the explanation. I am a little confused with your left and right. Is the comment under the jpg histogram correct - cant seem to get my head around what you are trying to say
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jackaroo View Post
    Thanks Rick for the explanation. I am a little confused with your left and right. Is the comment under the jpg histogram correct - cant seem to get my head around what you are trying to say
    Thanks, fixed!

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    thank you Rick- this is on my list for this vacation to learn.
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    Another great tutorial! Could have saved me a few images back when I was having issues getting my exposures right!
    Nikon Devotee: D200, F, F75 (N75), Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 + 55-200mm VR + 50mm 1.8D + 35mm 2.8 Ai-S
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    fantastic tut - I've been trying to work out what to do with these little things and now I know.
    Trigger Happy

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    Thanks Rick - I knew how to adjust my levels but I never knew what the gaps in the histogram were when you adjusted your jpg files.
    Oh ....is that why I used to get my left and right mixed up? I too used to work in the medical field.
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    Just to add to Ricks excellent tute, Using CS3 if you hold the alt key while adjusting the black/white sliders your photo will go either black or white and you can see the detail beginning to appear as you move the sliders.....cool
    Cheers David.

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    Excellent tutorial.

    With landscapes and other certain types of images, I like to drag the left slider slightly to the right of where the graph starts to rise. This gives punch to the image and creates a similar look to Fuji Velvia 50 (in conjuction with other adjustments), which has narrow latitude and tends to clip shadows.

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    Nicely written Rick.
    One day Im going to learn how to use these. I just need some extra time to sit down and work on it.
    Thanks Rick
    Cheers Peter
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    As Keen As Mustard NikonNellie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigbikes View Post
    Nicely written Rick.
    One day Im going to learn how to use these. I just need some extra time to sit down and work on it.
    Thanks Rick
    That's the hardest thing - finding the time!

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    Thanks Rick, a very helpful explanation.
    ........................................

    Di

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    Great little tutorial
    Yet another handy notch I can wear on my photography belt thanks to this site.

    A question though: When practising this on some of my old under exposed images, I noticed that certain objects such as night lights etc blow out and detract from the image when the levels are adjusted.

    Is there an accompanying adjustment, ie: Brightness/Contrast that can be used to limit this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by marko View Post
    Great little tutorial
    Yet another handy notch I can wear on my photography belt thanks to this site.

    A question though: When practising this on some of my old under exposed images, I noticed that certain objects such as night lights etc blow out and detract from the image when the levels are adjusted.

    Is there an accompanying adjustment, ie: Brightness/Contrast that can be used to limit this?
    There is, its the curves adjustment, which is accessible via the menu, right near levels. Curves are a bit more complex, and I haven't written a tutorial on them at this stage.

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    Thanks for the great tutorial Rick.

    Quote Originally Posted by dbax View Post
    Just to add to Ricks excellent tute, Using CS3 if you hold the alt key while adjusting the black/white sliders your photo will go either black or white and you can see the detail beginning to appear as you move the sliders.....cool
    I just tried this and I'm amazed. You can see exactly when you are starting to blow the highlights. Great tip.
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