How To Brighten Your Photos Without Sacrificing Contrast

How to Make Levels Adjustments in Expert Mode with PSE

PSE 12 Levels Adjustment Before and After

The first step in my photo editing process is to do a levels adjustment. What does this do? It boosts the lighting in your photo, brighten or tone down the highlights, adjust the midtones and shadows to give that photo the optimal lighting without losing the contrast that keeps your photo looking sharp. It actually improves it. When I said there is a much better, easier, and more refined way to adjust levels way back with the Quick mode, this is what I was talking about friends.

Like I said, my photo editing starts here, and sometimes it ends there too.  In the above photo I just brightened the highlights and midtones a tiny bit, and darkened the shadows–barely.

It’s our first sojourn into Expert Mode! So let’s begin, as always with the photo you would like to edit opened. In this case, we have my adorable nephew in a rare moment between terrorizing his sisters. How deceivingly peaceful he appears in this photo.

1 Expert Mode Layers Panel

Step 1: choose Expert mode

Step 2: make sure you have the layers panel up on the right side of the screen (click the Layers button at the bottom)

2 Adjustment Layer Levels

Step 3: At the top of the layers panel, click on the symbol for an adjustments layer (the circle that is half blue and half white)

Step 4: Click Levels on the list

3 Highlights Midtones Shadows

The box that just popped up is the Levels Adjustment box. You will notice three tabs at the bottom of the histogram, one white, one gray, and one black. To make adjustments you will be sliding these tabs to the left or right.

Step 5: Adjust the highlights by sliding the white tab (left to brighten, right to darken). Generally I only move the slider to the base of the first hill, so to speak. This is the magic button that gives your subject’s skin a subtle glow.

Step 6: Adjust the midtones by sliding the gray slider (left brightens, right darkens). Brightening too much will make your photo look a little grainy, but tweaking it a little bit will brighten up your dank looking photo without over exposing the highlights.

Step 7: Adjust the shadows by sliding the black slider (left brightens, right darkens). I usually only darken the shadows a tiny bit (until the base of the first hill). This will give your photo a little bit more contrast, making the photo look more crisp.

Step 8: When your levels are where you want them, just close out of the box.

PSE 12 levels adjustment example after

These are tiny little changes that add up to really take your photos from alright to the next level.


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About the author

Cecilia Harvey

I'm a technological enthusiast with a completely unrelated degree in English Literature. I've also been known to dabble in photography and DIY furniture refinishing, with occasional stints of fitness sprinkled among all of the above.

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