Get rid of the grey gloom! (levels)

In the first Scribble This! tutorial, we learned about setting the camera’s white balance to make colors pop and whites look pearly white.  But, what if you can’t get the camera’s white balance to work out?  Or — and this is what happens to me — you forget to set it?  That’s where you photo editor comes to the rescue!

In this tutorial, I’ll be showing a simple way that I use to fix a photo’s levels — it makes the photo on the left — grey and blah — look like the photo on the right in just a few easy steps!  (Note that if your colors are already white, then you don’t need to do this trick.)


I’ll be showing you screen shots from Photoshop CS3, but you can use Photoshop Elements or GIMP.  They all have the same concept.  (See this post for more info about GIMP + a link to download it — it’s free!)

Here’s that original photo again — grey and blah.  Save it to your computer by right-clicking on it and selecting “save as”.


Then, open up it up in your photo editor and bring up the Levels dialog — here’s how:

  • In CS3, it’s under  Image -> Adjustments -> Levels
  • In GIMP, it’s Tools -> Color Tools -> Levels
  • In Elements, go to Enhance -> Adjust Lighting -> Levels

All three editors will have something that looks like this:


The graph is a histogram of the input levels — black, greys, and whites that are in the photo.  See how there’s nothing on the right side of the curve?  That’s where the white inputs are.  Our first step will be to adjust the input level so that there’s more white.  It’s really easy — just grab the white triangle (for the white input) and scoot it over to the left towards where the histogram ends.  Here’s the triangle I mean:


After you scooch it over to the right, it will look like this:


And your image will look like this — starting to shape up nicely!


I recommend clicking the OK button at this point, and then bringing up the levels dialog box again.  This way you will save the work you did by moving the triangle and you can play with the next step — the eyedropper:


Go ahead and click on the white eyedropper — the one on the right.  You’ll notice that your mouse pointer turns into a little eyedropper.

Next, you’ll click on an area of your photo that should be pure white.  Here’s where I clicked in this photo — in the center of the circle under the orange flower:


It made the photo look like this — yay!


Before you click OK to exit the levels dialog, try clicking around in different spots to see how it changes.  Experiment + play.  Then click again in your favorite spot and click OK to save it.

Here’s the original and the adjusted versions again to compare again:


There’s also an “auto levels” in all three photo editors — but I’ve found that it doesn’t work that great for me.  By doing it this way, you’ll have full control.

One more thing!  You can repeat these same steps to fix the black color in your photos — just use the black eyedropper (the one on the left) and the black triangle (also the one on the left).  I’ve found that most of my photos don’t need these step — as you can see from the starting histogram there was plenty of black input.

Oh and in case you were wondering — the patterned paper is by Making Memories and the felt flowers are from Hero Arts.

Hope you enjoy the tutorial,

63 Replies to “Get rid of the grey gloom! (levels)”

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