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If you've got a flat kind of blah looking image like this, you can often make it pop by applying a levels adjustment. You can apply a levels adjustment as a direct adjustment on a photo layer, by going to the Enhance menu, the Adjust Lighting sub menu and choosing Levels from there. But as I have told you in previous movies in this chapter, I prefer using an adjustment layer to a direct adjustment whenever I can. So I'm going to apply a levels adjustment layer by going down to the Add Adjustment layer icon here, clicking and choosing Levels.
That adds a levels adjustment layer above the background layer that contains the photo, and it opens the Adjustments panel with the levels controls. The centerpiece of those controls is this chart which is known as a Histogram. The histogram represents all the tonal values that are available in an 8-bit image like this one. The far right side of this bar underneath the chart represents the brightest possible tones in an image, the far left side of this bar, the darkest possible tones. This black mount on the chart represents the actual tonal values in this photo.
This mount is actually a cluster of bars that are squeezed together so tightly that you can't see that they are individual bars. But each bar here represents a particular gray tone on the chart. The height of a bar represents the relative frequency of that tone. So the tallest bar here is this one, and if I follow that bar down to the baseline underneath the chart, I can see that it falls almost in the middle of the tonal range, a little bit to the left of the middle tones. And there are no bars above the white point and no bars above the black point.
And that's why this image looks kind of dull gray. Well that's all something that can be fixed here in the levels adjustments. I will start my adjustment by clicking on this black slider and dragging it over to the right until it's just under the left side of that black mound that represent the tones in this image. I'll release my mouse, and already the image looks a lot better. What I've done is taken the darkest tones, the ones that are just above this black slider and over to the left of it, and push those to pure black.
But there are still no white tones in the image, even the clouds and the sky look gray. So I'm going to go over to the white slider on the other side of the histogram and drag that over to the left until it's just under the mound of tones, and then I will release my mouse. And that sets the brightest tones in the image to white. If you want to get a sense of where that's happening in the image, you can hold down the Alt key, that's the Option key in your keyboard, as you drag that white slider and there you can see the tones that are being affected by dragging the white slider.
If I click and drag the black slider a little bit, you can see the tones that are being pushed to pure black. You don't want to go too far with either the black or white slider, because then you will lose detail in the corresponding pixels. So if I drag that black slider over to the right I will loose the detail in the darkest areas of the photo. So I will drag that back to where it was and the same is true of the white slider. If I drag that too far to the left, I lose detail in the brightest parts of the photo. So I will put that one back where it was too. There is one more slider here, and that's the gray slider in the middle.
This slider affects the gray tones in the image. If I drag it to the left, the photo looks brighter over all. And if I drag it to the right, the photo looks darker overall. In this photo I like it slightly to the right of where it started out. Where to put that gray slider is simply a matter of taste. In this photo I like it slightly to the right of where it started, so the photo is slightly darker and a little more dramatic. When you are looking at the histogram here in the levels adjustments, it doesn't look like it's changed in this view, but there's another view of the histogram that will help us to visualize the changes that I just made.
And that's the Histogram panel, which I'm going to open from the Window menu at the top of the screen. I'm going to take that Histogram panel and drag it out of this column so we can see it better. I will dock it in its own column here. I'm also going to change the Channel from Colors to RGB, so that it looks more like the histogram in the Adjustments panel. So here you can see the histogram after the changes that I have made in the Adjustments panel. And you can clearly see that the brightest tones have been pulled over to the far right of the histogram, the darkest tones to the far left of the histogram and all the gray tones in between, and all the gray tones in between have been spread out across this tonal range increasing the contrast in the image.
And because the tones have been spread out, you can now see the individual bars that make up the separate tones in the image. I will close the Histogram so we can have one last view of the image, with the changes that I've made. To compare a before and after, I go down to the bottom of the Adjustments panel and I click the eye icon, so there's where I started with this image, kind of dull and flat with all the tones in the midrange and there is where I ended up, with a wide range of tonal values, including bright highlights and dark shadow areas.
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