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How to Use the Photoshop Levels Tool

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COPY LAYER
This first step is optional. Some do it, and others don’t.
You’re basically making a copy of the original photo just in case you later wanted to start from scratch.
­čĽ╣ Shortcut: ┬áCtrl + J
DESATURATE
Here we’ll just go ahead and turn the photo black and white.
­čĽ╣ IMAGE – ADJUSTMENT – DESATURATE┬á
COPY LAYER
Make a copy of “Layer 2”. The Black and White version of the image.
­čĽ╣ Shortcut: Ctrl + J
SOFT LIGHT
Next we’ll blend “Layer 2” and “Layer 3” together in the LAYERS PANEL.
There are many options in this mixing box. Choose the look you think looks best for your image.
After you’ve found something you like, you have the option of controlling the OPACITY of the blend. OPACITY is another word for the transparency of the image you have selected in your layers tab.
So play around a little until you see something you like.
For this tuturial I’m going to go with my usually blend.
­čĽ╣ Dropdown arrow near the word NORMAL – SOFT LIGHT (or any blend of your choosing)
Here you can see the difference in the two images. The orginal photo on the left has less contrast than the new photo on the right.
I didn’t mess with the opacity for this particular image. I rather liked where this ended up, and it should serve as a good base to build the rest of the edit over.
MERGE LAYERS
Next we’ll merge the two layers together so we can continue with our edit. If you don’t merge the two images, any edit that we do will only effect that particular player that’s selected.
To do that:
­čĽ╣ Select the two layers by CLICKING ONE LAYER – HOLD DOWN CTRL – THEN CLICK THE SECOND LAYER
­čĽ╣ Then RIGHT CLICK on one of the layers, and scroll down to MERGE LAYERS
LEVELS
Now it’s time to start fine-tuning the image by adjusting the SHADOWS, MIDTONES, and HIGHLIGHTS.┬á
To do this we’ll use the LEVELS TOOL.
­čĽ╣ IMAGE – ADJUSTMENTS – LEVELS
The LEVELS TOOLS is simple to use once you understand what you’re looking at.
  • The small tab to the far left adjusts the darkest point in your image: THE SHADOWS
  • The small tab in the middle is used to adjust the MIDTONES in your image
  • The small tab to the far right adjusts the brightest points in your image: THE HIGHTLIGHTS
Just beneath those controls is the OUTPUT LEVEL.
  • The small tab to the left adjusts how dark or light the black parts of your image will be in your edit
  • The small tab to the right adjusts how soft or bright the white parts of your image will be in yout edit
Play around with any or all of these to get the desired look you’re after.

For this edit, I pulled my SHADOWS TOWARDS THE RIGHT to make them darker.
Then I pulled my HIGHLIGHTS TOWARDS THE LEFT to make them brighter.

FINAL TOUCH
From here I like to use this AMAZING software called Alienskin Exposure X.
It has tons of old film looks that photographers used back in the day.
The only “bad thing” about the software is that it’s so awesome that it’s sometimes hard to choose what PRESET you want to use. The looks are┬áabsolutely┬ástunning and will┬ádefinitely┬átake your work up another level.
Once you finally choose the preset you’d like to use from the box on the left, the tabs on the right allow you to fully adjust and customize the final look you’re going after. It has many of the same tools used in Photoshop, so the learning curve is┬árelatively┬ásimple and an absolute delight once you learn them.
Below you’ll see the final edit after adding the Alienskin Exposure X Preset and adjustments, and I posted the progression of the entire edit from start to finish.
Exposure 7 has an attached price tag of only $149.
It may sound pricey to some people, but for others, they realize that the added production value of their work will quickly put that $149 plus a lot more back into their pockets in no time.
If it still sounds too rich for your blood, no worries. They have an awesome 30 day trial which gives you FULL access to the software.
So my suggestion would be to give it a shot, and see for yourself if it’s worth it or not.