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When you are shooting a photo on an overcast day, you sometimes end up with a result like this. This image is flat, in other words, it doesn't have a wide enough range of tones. There are no bright whites and no dark darks. Most of the tones in this image are closed to middle gray. The best feature to adjust the lighting in this image is Levels. There are two places from which I could apply a Levels adjustment here, I could apply a direct adjustment from the Enhance menu coming down to Adjust Lighting and applying Levels from there. But that is not the best idea, because that would directly impact the single layer in this file. If I saved and closed the image and came back a month from now and wanted to adjust it again, I couldn't undo the adjustment.
Let me show a better way to apply a Levels adjustment as well as other kinds of photo adjustments here in Elements Full Edit workspace. I'm working with bookcliffs2.jpg from the 09_03_levels subfolder of the Chapter 09 exercise files. I'm going to come to the top of the Layers palette and click this black and white circle icon, from which I can add an adjustment layer. I'll choose Levels as the flavor of this adjustment layer, and that opens the Levels dialog box. I'm going to move that out of the way a bit, so that you can see that applying that adjustment layer command has also created a new layer in the file. This layer looks different than a regular layer. It has an adjustment symbol on the left and a layer mask on the right. Because I'm going to apply Levels in this adjustment layer, in the future I'll be able to throw the layer out or reopen it for reediting.
Now turn your attention to the Levels dialog box, how we move that over to the right now so that you can see the image. In the Levels dialog box, there is a graph. It's called a Histogram. This histogram represents all the possible tones in this image from the brightest brights on the right to the darkest darks on the left, and in between, the middle tones. This black hill in the middle represents the actual tones in this particular image. It tells us that all the tones here are clustered around the middle tones. There are no bright whites, there are no dark darks. But that's something that we can fix here in Levels.
To do that, I'm going to start with this white slider on the right and I'm going to drag it in toward that hill that represents the tones in this image. I'm going to drag it to just the beginning of the right side of the hill. Look at the difference in the image now. There are actually some light areas in the image. Now I'm going to take the black slider on the left and I'll drag it toward that hill of tones, and I'll stop when I reach just the beginning of that black hill. Now there is a dramatic difference in this image. It has bright whites, it has dark darks and has lots of tones in between.
I can tweak the results further by clicking on the gray slider and seeing want happens when I drag the to the right. That is increasing the contrast in the middle tones and that's too much. I'm going to go the other way. Actually I want to decrease the contrast in the middle tones just a bit to make it look more realistic. Now if I want to see the difference between the image as it was and as it is, I'll go to the Preview box and I'll click that check mark. That's where we started, that's where we ended. Quite a dramatic difference, isn't it? Now I'm going to click OK to apply this Levels adjustment.
Now let us say, later I change my mind and I want to tweak the adjustment a bit, I can go to the left hand thumbnail on the Levels 1 layer here, double click it and it reopens the Levels dialog box, where I can grab that gray slider, for example, and perhaps move that a bit more to the right to make the midtones have a bit more contrast and I'll click OK again. The other nice thing about using an adjustment layer to make my lighting adjustments and my color adjustments in Elements is, that all adjustment layers come with their own mask and I can use that mask to hide an adjustment from part of an image.
If I thought that this adjustment was too extreme for the foreground part of this image, I could limit the adjustment to just the sky by hiding the adjustment from the foreground and then I could apply a different adjustment to the foreground. So to hide this particular Levels adjustment from the foreground of this image, I'm going to go to the Toolbox, select the Brush tool and with black paint and a larger brush, which I'm increasing by pressing the bracket key on my keyboard, I'm just going to paint over the foreground. That protects the foreground from this Levels adjustment, and then I could apply a different adjustment that affected just the foreground and not the sky.
So if you have lighting problems with your photographs, be sure to give levels a try. It's a really powerful adjustment that can fix a lot of different lighting problems. When you apply this adjustment as well as other lighting and color adjustments, try to apply them using an adjustment layer rather that a direct adjustment.
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