Photoshop Tutorial: How to Adjust Photo Lighting with Levels

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned Adobe Photoshop user, knowing how to adjust photo lighting is a crucial skill. Levels is one of the most fundamental tools in Photoshop for adjusting the brightness and contrast of an image. By using Levels, you can quickly and easily improve the overall look of your photos.

What is Levels?

Levels is a non-destructive adjustment layer that allows you to manipulate the tonal range of an image. It does this by using a histogram, which is a graph that represents the distribution of tones in the image. The histogram shows the number of pixels at each brightness level, from black (on the left) to white (on the right).

How to Adjust Levels

To adjust the lighting of an image with Levels, follow these steps:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop.
  2. Create a Levels adjustment layer. To do this, click the “Layer” menu and select “New Adjustment Layer” > “Levels”.
  3. Adjust the black point, white point, and midtones. The Input Levels sliders are located just below the histogram. The black point slider controls the darkest tones in the image, the white point slider controls the lightest tones, and the midtones slider controls the middle tones.
  • Black point: Drag the black point slider to the left to make the darkest tones in the image darker.
  • White point: Drag the white point slider to the right to make the lightest tones in the image lighter.
  • Midtones: Drag the gray slider up or down to make the midtones in the image lighter or darker.

Tips for Using Levels

  • Use the histogram to guide you: The histogram can help you see where the tones in your image are concentrated. If the histogram is bunched up on the left side, the image is too dark. If it’s bunched up on the right side, the image is too bright. Adjust the sliders to spread out the tones more evenly.
  • Be careful not to overdo it: It’s easy to overdo it with Levels. If you make the changes too extreme, your image will look unnatural. Start with small adjustments and work your way up until you’re happy with the results.
  • Use Levels in conjunction with other adjustment layers: Levels is a great tool, but it’s not the only tool you can use to adjust photo lighting. You can also use adjustment layers like Curves, Exposure, and Dodge & Burn to achieve more specific results.

Examples of Using Levels

Here are a few examples of how you can use Levels to adjust photo lighting:

  • Fixing underexposed images: If your image is too dark, you can use Levels to brighten it up. Drag the black point slider to the right to make the darkest tones lighter.
  • Enhancing contrast: If your image is flat and lacking contrast, you can use Levels to add more drama. Drag the black point and white point sliders to the left and right, respectively, to make the tonal range more extreme.
  • Creating a vignette: A vignette is a darkening effect that is often used to draw attention to the subject of an image. You can create a vignette with Levels by dragging the black point slider to the left of the histogram.


Levels is a powerful tool that can be used to improve the lighting of your photos. By following the tips in this tutorial, you can learn how to use Levels to achieve professional-looking results.