Photoshop Levels offers is a simple way to fix dull, lifeless images. Learn how to apply a Levels Adjustment layer to an image, how to read the histogram chart and how to use it to fix your image in seconds.


Hello, I’m Helen Bradley. Welcome to this video tutorial. Today I’m going to show you a quick fix for a dull or muddy looking image. This is an image that lacks tonal range. It lacks contrast and we’re going to give it a punch and we’re going to do it quickly and easily. In this video tutorial I’m going to show you how you’re going to fix an image that looks a bit like this. This image is what I would call muddy. It actually lacks tonal contrast. There no blacks in this image. We’ve got some light pixels around the sky area but there are no blacks. And the result is that the image looks a bit foggy, a little muddy, a little lacking in tonal range, lacking in contrast and the color is a little bit flat as well. And this is the fix that we can apply to the image extremely quickly and Photoshop will actually tell us how to make the fix. It will tell us what’s wrong with the image and how to fix it. So let’s have a look and see how we’ll do this.

To start off with, with the image open in Photoshop I’m going to choose Window and then Layers because I want to see this layer’s palette. Now we’re going to choose an adjustment layer. It’s exactly the same as making an adjustment except this time it is editable, and we would like to get you started using adjustment layers because it gives you a little bit more power in Photoshop. So we’re going to choose Layer, New Adjustment Layer. And the one that we’re going to use is called levels. So let’s just click on Levels and see what we get. We get offered to add a new layer so I’ll click Ok to say yes. And then we get this dialogue here. Now this might look a little bit confusing but it’s actually Photoshop telling us what’s wrong with the image and giving us a chance to fix it. This is the pixels in the image. It’s a histogram. And what Photoshop has gone and done is it’s had a look at every single pixel in the image, how light or dark it is, and it’s counted up how many really dark ones it has and how many middle tone ones and how many light ones. And it’s done that for all the 255 tonal ranges in this image. So we got from 0 to 255. And it’s telling us how many pixels are in each of those ranges of tone. And this is black and this is white. So you see that we’ve got a few pixels very, very white and then a lot of pixels in that sort of light white area which is of course all around in the sky.

But see here, this is the problem in this image. There are no blacks. There’s nothing in this black area of the histogram. And so levels is not only telling us that but it’s also giving us a chance to fix it. So what we can do is we can drag on this slider here, the one under the chart. I want you to ignore these ones all the way at the bottom. It’s these under the chart that you’re interested in. And when you see the chart doesn’t make it all the way to either end of this histogram you’re just going to drag in until it does. And look what happens to the image as we do that. We’re just going to drag in to give ourselves some black pixels in the image, and then we can adjust this mid tone point as well. We’ll go to the right to darken the image or to the left to lighten the image. And you just need to choose for your image where the best point for that is. And we could come in a little bit here on the whites, perhaps. And certainly if the chart didn’t reach the edge then we would drag in on those whites. So you just need to read your chart and then just drag these little sliders into position. And when you’re done you can just close that dialog.

And there’s our fix. This is the before and this is the after. Photoshop showed us what was wrong with the image and gave us the chance of fixing it. Let’s have a look at another image that also has a similar problem.

This was captured in London on the London I through a fair bit of Perspex glass I should imagine. And also given that London tends towards being a little bit cloudy and gray I think that’s probably not helped this image either. So again, with the layer’s palette visible we’re going to add an adjustment layer, Layer, New Adjustment Layer, Levels, click Ok. Here’s our levels dialog, not unsurprising that we have no black pixels in this image. And in this image we have practically no white ones either. This one is a little bit different. So if we want to perk up the whites we can just bring in this slider here to lighten the whites and stop them being gray and make them white, things like the clock face here and some of the areas around here, this white building probably here. And now let’s drag in on the black slider to get some blacks and then we could adjust the mid tone if we wanted to darken the image or to lighten it and again, it’s to your taste. When you’re done, click the Close button. This is how the image started out and this is how it looks now. And that fix will take you 30 seconds.

Now the benefit of using adjustment layers, if I double click on this you’ll see that it opens up again. And if I think that I haven’t darkened it enough I can darken it up now and close it. So I’m not bound into this fix. I can remove it if I want to or I can double click it to adjust it and just improved it a little bit if I think I haven’t got it perfectly right.

I’m Helen Bradley. Thank you for joining me for this video tutorial. If you liked the video please click the Like button. Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel to be advised when new videos are released. And visit my website at for more tips, tricks and tutorials on Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom and other applications.

Helen Bradley