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. Wow! Thanks so much for the awesome tutorial! As many others have said, you really made it so easy!

  2. Amazing! I had always been using the levels much differently to achieve the ‘whiteness’ result and was never happy with how the images were turning out. Thanks a million!

  3. Thank you Lisa for the tutorial!! I’ve played with levels in my Photoshop before, but have never known that it can adjust my photo so easily! Big thanks for the tips!!

  4. THANK you!  What an awesome tutorial!

  5. What a great tutorial!!  I have Memory Manager from Creative Memories and was able to follow along with the tutorial.  I can’t believe how easy it was to ‘clean up’ my photos!!  Thank you!!

  6. Wow Lisa!  I’m so glad you did this tutorial!  This is awesome! My pictures have been suffering from a bad case of “grays” for a while and now I can’t wait to get home and try adjusting the pics to brighten them up!  Thanks so much :)

  7. Great tutorial, thanks!  Now what do I do if there  isn’t any white in my picture?

    1. Hi Jenica — if you still have your card around, you can take another photo of it and then put something white in the photo, do the adjustments, and crop out the white item. If you can’t retake the photo, then you’ll have to wait for another tutorial — sorry! Hope that help tho! :)

  8. You rock, girl!  Fab tutorial, thanks!!  I agree that the auto levels aren’t that great, but I was too lazy to figure out how to do it otherwise.  Thanks for your great step-by-step!  Can’t wait to try it!  (Too bad I don’t have my camera with my right now… just moved in with my in-laws).  :)

  9. Wow! Such a perfect tutorial, Lisa. To the point, great step-by-step. And the topic is bang on with where I’m at right now with Photoshop and picture-taking. Please, keep them coming!

  10. I love these tutorials Lisa.   Awesome and so simple to follow.  You’re the best to do this.  This solves a problem I’m had recently photographing my cards.

  11. […] takes me the longest, so when I find one I like, I go back to it.  I also used Lisa’s great tutorial on getting rid of grey in your photos.  I love it!  I also played around with the colors, trying […]

  12. Just found your blog today from another blogger, and this is exactly what I have been looking for!  My apartment has the absolute worst lighting, and I feel like I can never capture my cards in all of their detail.  Thank you for this!!  And I look forward to entering in a challenge in the future!

  13. wow…i never knew what the “levels” did…my friend told me about the “exposure” button which works wonders too. But this is fun to play around with!  Thanks for posting this tutorial!

  14. Thank you so much for this! I knew how to use the white eyedropper to pick the whitest spot, but moving the slider over first, I never did that – and that has helped a lot! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  15. This is FANTASTIC!! Thank you!!


  16. Thank you! What an amazing difference it makes. Hope you don’t mind…. I have linked to your tutorial on my blog :o)

  17. Hi Lisa, Thank you so much for your help!!!! I have the photoshop installed in my computer way way back but it is so intimidating. You are heaven sent! Thanks for sharing. God bless!!!

  18. Hi Lisa, Thank you so much for your help!!!! I have the photoshop installed in my computer way way back but it is so intimidating. You are heaven sent! Thanks for sharing. God bless!!!

  19. I realized I probably could have done my homework and figured this out for myself, but to have a step by step tutorial…you’re fabulous! I’ve often done the white balance adjustment on my camera, but I almost ALWAYS forget to reset it. I’m much more comfortable working with these easy adjustments after the fact. I’ll try to keep doing both, but for those times I forget, I’m set now! Thanks SOOOOOO much!

  20. I found you through Marelle Taylor’s blog & wanted to say thanks for such a great tutorial. I can’t belive that something so easy can make such a huge difference to my pics :-) 

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