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Levels is one of those adjustments you'll probably use quite often in digital photo restoration. Levels adjusts three basic areas of an image: the black, white, and midtone points. Let's go to the add a new fill or adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and select Levels. Now we'll have a quick look at the Levels dialog box. At the top of the Levels panel we see our presets. These may be one of the most underused features of the Levels dialog, but you might want to go through them just to see if there's a preset that might work, even as just a starting point.
On the PC, you can click on one and scroll through them with your up and down arrows; on the Mac you will need to click each one to select. I'll put the Preset back to default and move right below the presets to another dropdown, this one for the individual color channels. This ability to adjust by channels is another great reason to scan a photo, even a black-and-white photo, in color. When you select an individual channel, you can adjust it either with the eyedroppers over here or by adjusting the sliders down here.
You want all your sliders to be inside this informational area of the histogram. Let's select the Red channel, and you will see the histogram information is over on this end. So you bring your slider over to this informational area of the histogram, and you continue to do that with each individual channel. We'll go back to the combined channel now, and we'll move over to our eyedroppers. With the eyedroppers, you select the corresponding tones in the image itself. With the black eyedropper, you select the darkest tone of the image and the lightest with the white eyedropper.
The gray eyedropper is for the neutral tones in the image. The histogram shows the area in your image where the tonal information is. It goes from the blackest point on the left, set at zero, to the whitest point on the right, which is the numeric value of 255. The mid point value is set at 1.00. They all adjust the tonal quality, or the brightness, of the image. The Output Levels slider here adjusts the luminance of an image. Sliding the black arrow all the way to the right will result in pure white, and the white slider all the way to the left in pure black.
You can combine any and all of the settings, adjusting and readjusting to get the best result. If you don't like what you've done, or you want to start over again, CS4 and CS5 has a Reset button right down here at the bottom. In previous versions you can hold down your Alt or Option key to change your Cancel button into a Reset button. Levels is one of the easiest adjustments to use and one that can have some pretty dramatic results. If you need to adjust tones or bring contrast into an image, give Levels a try.
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