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When you're shooting a photo on an overcast day, you sometimes end up with the result like this. This photograph is flat; in other words it doesn't have a wide range of tones in it. There are no bright whites and no dark darks. Most of the tones in the image are closer to middle gray. One feature you can use to adjust lighting and contrast in an image like this is a Levels adjustment layer. There are two ways to apply a Levels adjustment. It can be applied as a direct adjustment or as an adjustment layer. In the last movie I showed you that the direct adjustments are located under the Enhanced menu and here in the Adjust Lighting category there is a Levels adjustment.
But I'm not going to choose that because I prefer to use an adjustment layer, which is more flexible than a direct adjustment and is nondestructive to the photo itself, as I explain in the preceding movie. So I'm going to go to the bottom of the Layers panel and I'm going to click the black and white circle icon, and from the menu that appears I'm going to choose Levels to create a Levels adjustment layer right here in the Layers panel above the Background layer that contains the photo. Creating that adjustment layer has set the Adjustments panel to display the controls for Levels, including this diagram here in the center of the panel.
The diagram is called a Histogram. It represents all the possible tones in this image from the brightest possible whites to the darkest possible blacks, and all the possible tones of gray in between. This black hill in the middle represents the actual tones in this particular photograph. It tells me that all the tones in this photo are clustered around the middle tones. There are no bright whites over here and no black blacks over here, but that's something that I can fix here with Levels. To do that I'll start with this white slider and I'm going to drag it to the left until it's just underneath some of the hill of black in the center of the diagram.
And as you can see in the image, that has lightened the brightest tones. Now I'm going to take the black slider and drag it to the right until it's just below the cluster of black bars that represent the tones in the image and that sets the darkest parts of the image to black. So now there are brighter whites, there are darker darks, and the range of midtones in between has expanded across the tonal range. Unfortunately you can't see that in this particular histogram, but if I go up to the Window menu at the top of the screen and choose Histogram to open a Histogram panel, you can see that there are now some bars across the entire tonal range.
The bars are all just clustered in the middle. By default the Histogram shows the bars that represent the tones in the image in color, but if I want to I can change that from the Channel menu to RGB and then I'll see a black-and-white view that's for similar to the Histogram in Levels. So here you can see more clearly that there are individual bars representing individual tones and that they are now spread out across the tonal range. I'm going to double-click the Adjustments tab to bring back the Levels controls. If I want to compare the image now to how it looked before I made this adjustment, I'll go down to the bottom of the Adjustments panel and click the eye icon, which makes the Levels adjustment temporarily invisible, and then I'll click again to enable the Levels adjustment again.
There is quite a dramatic difference. Just this simple adjustment has pretty much saved an image that I otherwise would have thrown out. As I explained in the last movie about adjustment layers, the benefit of having applied levels as an adjustment layer, rather than a direct adjustment is that I could now come back in and tweak the Levels adjustment at any time and whatever changes I make to Levels are not having a direct impact on the Background layer. So if I threw away this Levels adjustment layer I would still have my original photo on the Background layer untouched.
And the Levels adjustment layer like all adjustment layers comes with it's own layer mask that I could paint on to protect part of the photo from this adjustment, if I wanted to. All as I showed in the preceding movie. So if you do have contrast and exposure problems with your photographs, be sure to give Levels a try. It's a really powerful adjustment that can fix a range of lighting problems and when you apply a Levels adjustment try to do it as an adjustment layer rather than as a direct adjustment.
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