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)”

  1. Hi Lisa, my husband told me about GIMP. I think I already have it on my PC upstairs. I think I’ll install it on my Mac downstairs. I’m working with that exact set of Making Memories papers right now. Thanks for the tutorial!

  2. Thanks Lisa! I did manage to play last week, just didn’t get my pictures uploaded. Oops! I think I could have used this week’s yesterday. I’ll have to go back and try it on the picture I’m thinking of. :)

  3. Hi Lisa,
    I followed your tutorial using your picture and wow, it ended up looking like yours.  Can’t wait to try it on one of my photos.  I think I will be using this often.  Thanks, MOM

  4. Oh my goodness, Lisa…this is awesome!  I haven’t had the time to play around with my camera yet, but I will definitely give this a try!  I’m so excited about this!  THANK YOU!

  5. thank you thank you thank you! I found that the custom white balance didn’t always work for me but this is awesome… I’ve always wanted to understand the levels but they seemed so complicated – you made it so easy!

  6. Awesome! I tried it and it works beautifully, just as you said. I am using Photoshop CS3 – thank you for the tutorial!

  7. Great tutorial hon!  This will help me with non-stamping photos too!  :-)

  8. Thank you so much, you make it so simple and easy.  I’ve already bookmarked your site.

  9. Thank you for another great tutorial.  It’s fantastic to have more control.  Can’t wait to try this.

  10. […] hier dreht es sich wieder um Fotobearbeitung. Schaut mal auf ihrem Blog nach, vielleicht ist diese Anleitung ja auch etwas für […]

  11. Lisa… your tutorials are amazing and so helpful.  Keep them coming because I am learning so much!

  12. wow! great and easy to follow tutuorial, Lisa… thanks!

    i just tried this on my most recent card picture and it made it look so much better…

  13. This is AMAZING! Thank you for the step by step directions, it was very easy to follow. I downloaded the GIMP program, and I LOVE that it was free! Thanks for the link! :)

  14. Okay!  That was down right EXCITING!!!  I tried both the white balance setting on my camera (which I was actually able to find with your help and my camera manual) AND this lighting balance on PSE.  They’re both amazing.  I redid an old photo with the PSE…AWESOME!  And I took a new photo with the camera white balance…AWESOME!!!  Even the one done with the camera was even better after a go with the eyedropper thingie.  I LOVE YOU!  Okay, that was a bit extreme.  But, really, THANKS!!!

  15. love it! thanks for sharing tips:)

  16. Hey Lisa! I have a question, I am at the step with the eyedropper and it seems to make it too white. What do I do about that? Thanks!

    1. Hi Winter!

      Try clicking the eyedropper somewhere else and see how that works. Click on the point where you want it to be absolutely white.

      There are other things you can do, but they are more advanced and hard to describe — I’d have to write another tutorial for them. Hope that helps in the meantime!

  17. What an awesome tutorial Lisa. Really really appreciate you taking the time to teach us these techniques!! Can’t wait to try it out.

  18. I found you through Kristina Werner’s blog, and I am so glad that she pointed you out! Thank you so much for the invaluable editing tip!  I’m definitely going to be using this one since half of the pictures I take of my cards are taken after sunset! 

  19. This is way easier than I thought it would be now that you have showed me how to do it!  I also preset a WB on Nikon D90 from your post…I’ve had it since Christmas and the community ed class I wanted to get into right after that was full and I’ve been disappointed with my new fancy camera UNTIL TODAY!  Thank you SOOOOO much!

Leave a Reply to Sarah M Cancel reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.