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Adding a Levels adjustment layer

From: Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac Essential Training

Video: Adding a Levels adjustment layer

When you are shooting a photo on an overcast day, you sometimes end up with the result like this. This image is flat. In other words, it doesn't have a wide enough range of tones to look good. There are no bright whites and no dark darks. Most of the tones in the image are close to middle gray. One of the features that I can use to adjust the lighting in this image is levels. I think you are going to be surprised at how levels can really save an image like this. There are two places from which I could apply a levels adjustment. One is a direct adjustment from the Enhance menu>Adjust Lighting, and I could choose Levels from there.

Adding a Levels adjustment layer

When you are shooting a photo on an overcast day, you sometimes end up with the result like this. This image is flat. In other words, it doesn't have a wide enough range of tones to look good. There are no bright whites and no dark darks. Most of the tones in the image are close to middle gray. One of the features that I can use to adjust the lighting in this image is levels. I think you are going to be surprised at how levels can really save an image like this. There are two places from which I could apply a levels adjustment. One is a direct adjustment from the Enhance menu>Adjust Lighting, and I could choose Levels from there.

But as I explained in the preceding movie, I don't like to apply direct adjustments to a photo, because that will permanently change the pixels. Instead I like to apply adjustments with Adjustment layers wherever possible. So I am going to exit out of that menu, and I am going to go over to the layers panel, where I have a single Background layer that contains this photo. With that layer selected, I will go down to the New Adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the layers panel, I will click there, and I am going to choose Levels, to apply a Levels Adjustment layer.

You can see the Levels Adjustment layer here, above the Background layer, and in the Adjustments panel, the controls for Levels now appear. The Levels Adjustment layer is just like the Brightness/Contrast Adjustment layer that I showed you in the last movie. It comes with its own layer Mask, which can be used to limit the effect of the adjustment on different parts of the image, and it affects all the layers below, unless clipped to a single layer, in this case there is only one layer, so there is no need to do that. If you open the file later after saving it with layers intact, you can always go back and edit this Adjustment layer.

Now let's take a look at the Levels controls in the Adjustments panel. Here is a chart that represents all the possible tonal values in this image. So if you can imagine the image without color and just think of it as grayscale, picture a range of possible tones, from the brightest white on the right side of the chart, to the darkest black on the left side of the chart, and a variety of great tones in between. This mound of black in the middle represents the actual tones in this particular image, and the height of the bars clustered together here represents the frequency of a particular tone.

So as you can see the most frequent tones here are those directly in the midrange, middle gray, and all the tones are clustered around middle gray. There are no tonal values in the white area and no tonal values in the dark area, and that's why the image looks so flat. But I can fix that here in the Levels controls. The way to do that is to move my mouse over the white slider on the right side of this chart. By the way, this chart is called a Histogram. I am going to hold down the Option Key, as I click on that white slider, and start dragging it to the left.

As I reach this mound of black bars, notice that there are a few colors appearing in the document window. Those colors represent the pixels in the corresponding color channel that are going to be set to pure white, as a result of my moving the white slider to its new position here. So I am going to release the Option key and release my mouse, and you can see that there are now some bright areas here in the hill, and the whole image in fact is lighter, because along with the white slider moving to the left, the gray slider, which represents midtones has also been pushed to the left.

Basically what I have done here is to push all of the tones to the right of this white slider to pure white. Now I am going to do the same thing with the black slider. I will hold the Option key, I will click on the black slider in the Levels controls in the Adjustments panel, and I will start dragging to the right, and soon I will see just a few hints of color, and that means that there are some pixels that are being pushed to pure black. So I am going to release my mouse, and look at the difference in that image. If I go down to the bottom of the Adjustments panel and I clicked the Eye icon there, this is how the image looked when I started this adjustment, this is how it looks with this adjustment.

What's happened is that I have set a white point, I have set a black point, and I have managed to expand the tonal range of grays in between those two points, something that you really can't see on the Histogram in the Adjustments panel. But there is another Histogram that will show that and that's in the Histogram panel. I will open that for you now by going up to the Window menu and down to Histogram. In the Histogram panel, I will go to the Channel menu, and I will change it from Colors to RGB. Now it looks more like the Histogram in the Levels controls.

As you can see, there are now black bars across the entire tonal range, and those bars have been strung out so that there are actually spaces between them, and they don't look like a solid mound in the middle. So that's the incredible kind of job that a good Levels Adjustment can do. This has really saved an image that I might have thrown away, and made it into one that I think is quite dramatic.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac Essential Training
Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac Essential Training

81 video lessons · 7170 viewers

Jan Kabili
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 2m 35s
    1. Welcome
      1m 18s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 17s
  2. 13m 0s
    1. Touring Elements
      7m 24s
    2. Starting from the Welcome screen
      5m 36s
  3. 16m 11s
    1. Importing photos from a camera
      8m 48s
    2. Dividing scanned photos
      3m 52s
    3. Capturing frames from video
      3m 31s
  4. 23m 13s
    1. Touring Bridge CS4
      7m 44s
    2. Opening files from Bridge into Elements
      5m 1s
    3. Rotating photos
      1m 17s
    4. Moving, deleting, and hiding photos
      4m 11s
    5. Renaming photos
      5m 0s
  5. 29m 16s
    1. Tagging photos with keywords
      6m 28s
    2. Rating and labeling photos
      5m 55s
    3. Sorting photos by filter
      6m 23s
    4. Finding photos
      4m 33s
    5. Organizing photos in Collections
      5m 57s
  6. 52m 52s
    1. Touring the Quick Fix workspace in the Editor
      8m 34s
    2. Applying Quick Fix lighting controls
      3m 33s
    3. Applying Quick Fix color controls
      6m 30s
    4. Applying Quick Fix sharpening
      3m 44s
    5. Using Quick Fix touchup tools
      7m 43s
    6. Fixing group shots in Guided Edit
      6m 25s
    7. Merging multiple exposures in Guided Edit
      7m 24s
    8. Applying the Scene Cleaner in Guided Edit
      6m 31s
    9. Running Automated Actions in Guided Edit
      2m 28s
  7. 30m 57s
    1. Touring the Full Edit workspace
      6m 5s
    2. Working with tabbed documents
      4m 28s
    3. Arranging panels
      4m 14s
    4. Using tools
      8m 15s
    5. Setting editing preferences
      3m 8s
    6. Adjusting color settings
      4m 47s
  8. 46m 0s
    1. Using Undo History
      6m 6s
    2. Zooming and navigating
      5m 38s
    3. Creating a blank file
      5m 43s
    4. Photo resizing and resolution
      8m 21s
    5. Enlarging the canvas
      3m 10s
    6. Cropping and straightening an image
      3m 12s
    7. Using the Recompose tool
      3m 23s
    8. Processing multiple files
      6m 16s
    9. Saving and formats
      4m 11s
  9. 23m 25s
    1. Understanding layers
      3m 30s
    2. Working in the Layers panel
      8m 53s
    3. Combining images with layer masks
      11m 2s
  10. 22m 24s
    1. Understanding selections
      3m 39s
    2. Manual selection tools
      7m 36s
    3. Automatic selection tools
      3m 9s
    4. Refining a selection
      3m 59s
    5. Modifying and saving selections
      4m 1s
  11. 55m 51s
    1. Using adjustment layers
      9m 21s
    2. Adding a Levels adjustment layer
      4m 49s
    3. Applying a Shadows/Highlights adjustment
      3m 24s
    4. Adding a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
      5m 30s
    5. Adjusting with Color Curves
      4m 3s
    6. Removing a color cast
      3m 55s
    7. Correcting skin tone
      2m 10s
    8. Reducing digital noise
      3m 44s
    9. Sharpening photos
      9m 42s
    10. Working with raw photos
      9m 13s
  12. 18m 58s
    1. Using the Smart Brush tool
      5m 20s
    2. Using the Detail Smart Brush tool
      3m 30s
    3. Dodging and burning
      1m 49s
    4. Healing blemishes
      3m 51s
    5. Removing content with the Clone Stamp tool
      3m 15s
    6. Removing red-eye
      1m 13s
  13. 26m 26s
    1. Applying filters
      5m 6s
    2. Adding effects
      3m 0s
    3. Using layer styles
      3m 36s
    4. Using shapes
      8m 25s
    5. Using the Cookie Cutter tool
      2m 54s
    6. Converting color to black and white
      3m 25s
  14. 7m 35s
    1. Creating text
      4m 7s
    2. Editing text
      3m 28s
  15. 27m 26s
    1. Making a photo collage
      7m 15s
    2. Stitching a photo panorama
      3m 43s
    3. Saving for the web
      6m 40s
    4. Creating web galleries in Bridge
      6m 47s
    5. Creating a PDF slideshow
      3m 1s
  16. 4m 34s
    1. Printing photos and contact sheets
      2m 49s
    2. Sending photos by mail
      1m 45s
  17. 23s
    1. Goodbye
      23s

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