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Photoshop: Levels Adjustment (Tonal Range)
Version: Adobe Photoshop CC 2021. Be aware that different versions of Photoshop will vary in appearance and functionality. Full Guides: Photoshop: Images, Photoshop: Graphic Design
Adjustments in Photoshop are a group of editing tools that can be used to manipulate color and tone without permanently changing the image. Adjustment layers can be edited and discarded in order to restore the original image at any time. Common Adjustments include Levels, Brightness & Contrast, Vibrance, and Color Balance.
The Levels adjustment gives fine-tune control over tonal changes, including the ability to adjust color channels separately (red, green, and blue). In addition to Levels, the Brightness/Contrast Adjustment can be used to adjust tone (see Photoshop: Brightness/Contrast Adjustment for more details).
Expand each section below to see its content.
To change an image’s tonal range with the Levels Adjustment:
- Select the Levels adjustment in the Adjustments panel. A Levels layer will be added in the Layers panel, and a Properties panel will open.
- If the Adjustments panel isn’t open, navigate to Window > Adjustments.
Proper usage of Levels requires an understanding of histograms. A histogram illustrates how pixels in an image are distributed by graphing the number of pixels at each color intensity level. The far left side of a histogram shows the shadows (black), the middle shows the midtones, and the far right is highlights (white).
Histograms that are skewed to the right are over-exposed (too bright), graphs skewed to the left are under-exposed (too dark), and graphs more evenly distributed are properly exposed. In most cases, the optimal distribution is to have values ranging all the way across.
Empty parts of the graph means that no pixels of that color exist in the image. For example: an empty left side in an over-exposed image means no black pixels are present, because everything in the image is too bright. This can be fixed with the Levels adjustment.
In the image below, the black and white sliders are moved to meet the ends of the histogram to re-distribute the pixels evenly.
After adding an Adjustment to an image, a new layer is created for the adjustment in the Layers panel.
- To re-open adjustments later, double-click on the adjustment’s icon in its layer. The adjustment’s Properties Panel, with any changes made, will appear.
- To delete an adjustment layer, click-and-drag the layer to the trashcan within the Layers Panel.
To apply an Adjustment to a specific area or layer:
- Select the desired layer with the image from the Layers panel.
- Highlight the object/area with a Selection tool, such as the Quick Selection tool (see Photoshop: Selection Tools for more details).
- Select the desired Adjustment from the Adjustments panel. A new mask for the Adjustment will be created.
- Change the settings in the Properties panel. Only the masked area will be affected.
- Photoshop: Information
- Photoshop: Creating a New Document
- Photoshop: Interface Overview
- Photoshop: Undoing Changes & the History Panel
- Photoshop: Layering & Object Arrangement
- Photoshop: Selection Tools
- Photoshop: Painting Brushes
- Photoshop: Cropping
- Photoshop: Resizing
- Photoshop: Masking
- Photoshop: Drawing Shapes
- Photoshop: Using the Pen Tool (Custom Paths)
- Photoshop: Adding Text
- Photoshop: Colors
- Photoshop: Color Balance Adjustment
- Photoshop: Vibrance Adjustment
- Photoshop: Brightness/Contrast Adjustment
- Photoshop: Levels Adjustment (Tonal Range)
- Photoshop: Face Retouching
- Photoshop: Saving & Exporting