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Adjust the levels of an image

You can use the Levels adjustment to set the values of the shadows, midtones, and highlights in an image. The Levels adjustment features five sliders: black point, gray point, and white point sliders, as well as two quarter-tone sliders — one between the shadows and midtones, and one between the midtones and highlights. As you move each of these sliders to redefine, say, the black or white points, the other tones in the image are evenly redistributed, increasing the tonal range and contrast in the image.

The Levels adjustment includes five channels that you can edit — RGB, Luminance, Red, Green, and Blue — and each one lets you edit your image in a different way. RGB lets you adjust all the colors that make up every photo together. Luminance adds a way to adjust tones without changing the perceived saturation of colors. And the Red, Green, and Blue channels let you individually edit each of the colors that make up a digital image.

Levels also features Auto Contrast and Auto Color options, which automatically enhance images to make them more vivid and vibrant. Auto Contrast adjusts the Luminance channel to improve brightness and contrast. And Auto Color adjusts each of the Red, Green, and Blue channels to improve colors. They’re a great starting point, but you can also add any finishing touches yourself as the changes appear right in the Levels adjustment.

Automatically adjust the levels of an image to improve contrast
  1. Do one of the following:

    • Choose Format > Color Adjustments > Levels (from the Format menu at the top of your screen).
    • In the Tools sidebar, click and choose Levels from the Add menu.
    • Press Command ⌘ + L on your keyboard.
  2. Click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose Auto Contrast.

To fine-tune the automatic contrast improvements, click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose Luminance, then drag the sliders in the Luminance channel of the Levels adjustments.

Show Original: Click the Show Original button or press the O key on your keyboard to see what the image looks like without any color adjustments.

To reset your changes, click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose Reset.

Automatically adjust the levels of an image to improve colors
  1. Do one of the following:
    • Choose Format > Color Adjustments > Levels (from the Format menu at the top of your screen).
    • In the Tools sidebar, click and choose Levels from the Add menu.
    • Press Command ⌘ + L on your keyboard.
  2. Click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose Auto Color.

To fine-tune the automatic color improvements, click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose Red, Green, or Blue, then drag the sliders in the Red, Green, or Blue channels of the Levels adjustments.

Show Original: Click the Show Original button or press the O key on your keyboard to see what the image looks like without any color adjustments.

To reset your changes, click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose Reset.

Manually adjust the levels of an image
  1. Do one of the following:
    • Choose Format > Color Adjustments > Levels (from the Format menu at the top of your screen).
    • In the Tools sidebar, click and choose Levels from the Add menu.
    • Press Command ⌘ + L on your keyboard.
  2. Drag the sliders below the histogram in the Levels adjustment to manually adjust the levels of an image.

    Black point: Dragging the black point slider redefines the black point in the image. If your image has gray shadows that you’d like to be closer to black, you can drag the black point to the right. The rest of the tonal values in the image will be evenly redistributed, increasing the overall contrast in the image.

    Gray point: Dragging the gray point slider redefines the gray point in the image. This slider can be dragged in two directions — when you drag it to the right, you specify that a tone brighter than the current gray point becomes the new gray point. This darkens the image but affects the midtones more and doesn’t have such a strong effect on the dark blacks and bright whites. Dragging it to the left brightens the image, again affecting the midtones (and lighter shadows/darker highlights) more than the pure blacks and whites.

    White point: Dragging the white point slider redefines the white point in the image. If your image has somewhat dark highlights that you’d like to be closer to white, you can drag the white point to the left. The rest of the tonal values in the image will be evenly redistributed, increasing the overall contrast and brightness of the image.

    Quarter-tone: Dragging these sliders affects only the tones between either the shadows and midtones, or midtones and highlights, without affecting the other tones.

Important: If you clip too far into either the black or white tonal values, tonal values that were originally near pure black and pure white are now changed to pure black and pure white, resulting in lost image detail.

Show Original: Click the Show Original button or press the O key on your keyboard to see what the image looks like without any color adjustments.

To reset your changes, click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose Reset.

Change the channel in which to adjust levels
  1. Do one of the following:

    • Choose Format > Color Adjustments > Levels (from the Format menu at the top of your screen).
    • In the Tools sidebar, click and choose Levels from the Add menu.
    • Press Command ⌘ + L on your keyboard.
  2. Click the Levels pop-up menu in the Tool Options pane and choose RGB, Luminance, Red, Green, or Blue.

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