Here’s a quick and dirty trick to make adjusting your levels a breeze. When trying to adjust levels, its common that you lose details, especially in extreme contrast zones. Using this trick, you’ll be able to quickly and easily identify affected areas and mask away the problematic spots to retain the most information while having a problem balance of contrast.
Set up your canvas
For the purpose of this tutorial, download the Giraffe stock photo from DeviantArt user equizotical. Open the photo in Photoshop. Now create a Levels Adjustment Layer by navigating to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. Click on OK to continue.
Hold down the Alt key and drag to darkness slider up to about 12. Notice how some spots on the image turn solid black to indicate areas where the darkness level hits solid black. We’ll correct the eye area later on. Release the Alt key to see your change.
Hold down the Alt key once more and move the light slider down to about 236 and release. Again, notice the loss of detail in the sky.
Correct the details
We’ve lost some detail in the sky and around the eye, so we’ll correct those with masking. Make sure your Levels Adjustment Layer is select and select black as your foreground color. Select the Brush Tool and choose a large, round blurry brush and paint away at the top left sky portion where the clouds should appear and on the eye to remove the level adjustment. You can adjust your brush’s opacity or flow to reduce the aggressiveness.
While not very visible on a thumbnail, we’ve lost quite a bit of detail in the eye area and some of the clouds in the highlighted zones.
You should now have a nicely leveled photo without having lost any detail. Have a question? Be sure to leave a comment and enjoy!