HOW TO... correct tone and colour with the Photoshop Levels tool

Correct Colour

Colour and tone have a dramatic effect on the quality of your photographs. It’s essential before you apply any other type of development to your image in the digital darkroom that you get the foundations right. Let’s just get that out of the way.

But even the best-executed images need a little touching up in Photoshop just as you used to do in a wet darkroom. It’s easy to correct tone and colour with Photoshop Levels, as they provide a fast and effective way to take control of any colour casts and contrast issues that your images might have.

What are Photoshop Levels?

  • A tool in Photoshop to quickly adjust the brightness, contrast and tonal range of an image

Photoshop Levels, or for that matter any imaging application that has a levels adjustment feature, enable you to take control of the brightness, contrast and tonal range of an image.

They do this by displaying a graphical histogram of the tonal information within the image and enable you to adjust the white, mid-tone and black point of the image.

There are plenty of options in the small Levels dialogue window once you open it, but here we just want to get started and look at the basics to get you started.

How do you correct tone and colour, and what does the histogram display?

The histogram shows all the images tonal information from dark to light. On the left of the histogram are the blacks and over to the right the white, in the middle are the mid-tones.

In a health histogram you should see a peak in the middle and a little information to the left and right.

Often if the image is lacking contrast simply pulling in the Black point and white point sliders to meet the edges of the histogram will instantly transform the image.

The mid-tone slider in the middle can then be adjusted to give greater preference to the blacks by moving it to the right or whites by moving it to the left.

What is a histogram in photography? Common questions answered

Boost contrast with Photoshop Levels

Boost Contrast

One of the most common uses for Levels in Photoshop and many other editing applications is to boost an image’s contrast.

How to quickly boost contrast with Photoshop Levels.

  1. Open an image
  2. Create a Levels adjustment layer.
  3. Move the Black Point slider to meet the left edge of the histogram.
  4. Move the White Point slider to meet the right edge of the histogram.
  5. To lighten mid-tones move the mid-tone slider to the right, to darken move it the left.
  6. Click OK to apply

How to correct colour casts with Photoshop Levels?

Correct Colour

Another trick that Levels adjustments have is the ability to adjust the colour balance of an image resulting in the fast correction of colour casts.

Alongside the histogram and sliders there are also three pipettes and these can be used to set absolute white, absolute black and the mid-tone point of an image.

Each of the three pipettes is coloured so you know where you are, or hover over the icon and a popup will appear with the name of that pipette. The black and white point pipettes are great if you know your image contains an area of absolute black or absolute white. Otherwise it’s best to use the mid-tone pipette.

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How to set the black point of an image using Photoshop Levels

  1. Select the Black Point pipette and click into a black area of the image.
  2. Click and you’ll see the histogram leap to the left and the image darken.

How to set the White point of an image using Photoshop Levels

  • Select the White Point pipette and click into a white area of the image.
  • Click and you’ll see the histogram leap to the right and the image lighten.

These two pipettes are a little over the top and can easily cause a little too much of a contrasty look. The Mid-Tone pipette is a far more powerful weapon in the Photoshop Tool box when it comes to colour correction.

Correct colour casts with Photoshop Levels

  1. Open a Levels adjustment Layer
  2. Select the mid-tone pipette
  3. Click onto an area of grey within the image
  4. Click OK to apply.

There’s plenty more to the Levels Adjustment Layer for graphics and illustration, but when it comes to photography those are the basics that you need to get started correcting colour and contrast.

10 quick ways to improve colour in your images



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