You have a wonderful photo of a precious memory, a beautiful kit to work with and you’ve created an amazing layout. But, is your photo all it can be? Not if you haven’t checked your levels. This is the first thing I teach all my students to check on every photo. It can make the difference between a dull and a dynamite image!
Here’s how (this works in all recent versions of Photoshop and Elements):
Step 1: Hold your CTRL key and press L (CTRL+L) to bring up the Levels dialog box. (If you forget, it’s under Image>Adjustments>Levels in PS; Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Levels in PSE.)
The diagram there is called a histogram. It’s a graph of the lightness/ darkness of the pixels in this image. Across the bottom is a scale from BLACK (on the left) to WHITE on the right. The “mountain” is a bar graph showing the number of pixels that correspond with that shade of grey. So in this image, most of the pixels are in the mid-range, making it low contrast and not the greatest picture. But, we can improve that.
Notice there are flat lines at the right and left of the “mountain.” This means there are no pixels that are pure black or pure white, giving you a muddy picture.
Step 2: To correct this, click on the little triangles at the outside edges and slide them in to “meet the mountain.”
This will make the darkest pixel in the image black and the lightest pixel in the image white. You can see the difference it makes, even in this image which I might have thought was just fine:
Just that tiny bit of adjustment made my photo so much more bright and alive!
You can do this same adjustment in Curves, but I find adjusting Levels quicker and easier for everyday images.
Now, sometimes you will see a histogram that goes right to the little triangles, all the way to the edges of the graph: great! Hit CANCEL and you’re done! But, most times, you’ll be surprised just how many images can be improved with this quick method for adjusting levels.
Now go check your last layout… are your images “on the level?”