Dark side? Light side? How about a balance!

We’ve all been there, you take a photo and realise it is under / over exposed, in other words a bit on the dark side or light side. But do not fear! Using the ‘Levels’ tool present in pretty much any image editing software, it is easy to restore the balance of light and dark. Our program of choice for this tutorial is Adobe Photoshop CC.

Take the photo below for example. Although our untouched image does look cool and moody, it is underexposed and not a true reflection of the scene captured. Using the ‘Levels’ tool in Photoshop you’ll see that we were able to adjust the exposure to correct the lighting in the image, resulting in more representative photograph.

Levels Tool

Levels Tool

‘Levels’ is a tool in Photoshop and other image editing programs, which can move and stretch the brightness levels of an image histogram. A histogram is simply a graphical representation of the pixels in the scene – we will not cover this in any more detail, you can read more in this detailed article.

The ‘Levels’ tool, seen in the accompanying screenshot, consists of a histogram and set of dials. It has the power to adjust brightness, contrast, and tonal range by specifying the location of complete black, complete white, and midtones in a histogram. Follow the steps below to see how to use it.

Levels Tool

Create a new adjustment layer

Create a new 'levels' adjustment layer

First, import your image and create a new ‘levels’ adjustment layer.

Find the levels adjustment panel

You should now see levels tool

You should now be presented with the levels tool, within the properties panel.

Clip to layer?

Use the 'clip to layer' button if required

Use the ‘clip to layer’ button to ensure your adjustments affect only the layer below, not all layers.

Auto adjustment

Use the 'Auto' button to let Photoshop to the work

Use the ‘Auto’ button to let Photoshop analyse the image’s histogram data and attempt to correct any colour balance and exposure issues.

Manual adjustments

Use the three sliders to affect the image

Drag the three sliders to adjust the shadows, mid tones and highlights until your image looks right. You can hold the ALT key as you do this on the shadows or highlights slider to see which areas of your image are being affected – helpful in not overdoing the adjustments.

See the results

See the results!

Turn the adjustment layer on / off to get a contrast and see the results!

Hopefully you’ve been able successfully rebalance the struggle between light and dark in your image. The ‘Levels’ tool is a useful ally when digitally correcting images, which is why it is our second ‘Essential Image Editing Tool’. Check back soon for our next article in this series and to see which tool we feature next…