The Levels tool gives you more refined control over images that are over or underexposed. First you might think to use the Exposure tool which can help adjust the basics of overall contrast and brightness. However for images that need a lot of post-production work, the Levels tool gives you complete control over the highlights, midtowns and shadows individually.
To break down the Levels tool, you’ll want to have an understanding of all the adjustment options.
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In the Levels tool menu you’ll see two Input sliders: Min Input and Max Input. The Min Input slider controls all of your Shadows within the image. As you gradually increase it, the entire image will turn black. Slight adjustments will give you better control over darkening the shadows already represented in your image if that’s what you wish to do.
The Max Input controls all of the highlights within your image. Decreasing the slider will brighten all of the light sources in your photos, and moving the slider entirely to the left will turn your image white. Balance between each of the input sliders will let you control the overall shadows and highlights more precisely than the Exposure tool sliders will allow.
The Output sliders mimic the Input sliders, Min Output and Max Output. These sliders adjust the overall tonal range of your image, reducing the contrast of your shadows and highlights.
Increasing the Min Output slider will limit the intensity of the shadows in your photo, creating an overall brighter effect. Decreasing Max Output will limit the intensity of highlights in your image, making the overall effect darker. Move both sliders slightly inwards to achieve a matte effect.
The Gamma slider will control the overall exposure of your image. If you’re not doing a lot of fine tuning of the image and want to brighten or darken the overall image, the Gamma slider can help. Decrease the slider to darken the image, or increase the slider to brighten it.
Using the Levels Tool:
Step 1: Start with opening an image in your Photo Editor. Go from the Edit menu to Levels under the Miscellaneous category.
Step 2: Check out the different adjustment options in Levels and start experimenting.
In this case we get a lot more contrast by moving the Min Input up and the Max Input down.
In another version, we move the Gamma slider to move the overall exposure up, then adjust the Max Input to get more refined.
Step 3: If you only want to apply the effect to parts of your image, click on the 'Paint' tab and use the paintbrush tool to choose where you want to apply it.
Approaching the Levels tool can vary greatly depending on the image you're using and where it needs the most help. An underexposed image would need different adjustments than an overexposed image. Play around with the Levels tool to understand how each adjustment slider works and how to best apply it to your image.