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. This is wonderful thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. Steph X

  2. thank you so much for this tutorial. I always used auto levels but this is so much better.

  3. just done it on a blog post – what a DIFFERENCE – thank you very much for this

  4. Thanks a lot!!  I used the tutorial for one of my photos and the difference is so great!  I can’t wait for the next one.

  5. […] Here is the photo after using some of the other tutorials from Lisa, white balance and adjusting lighting levels. […]

  6. […] Adjust the levels, crop, and make any other tweaks. […]

  7. […] Thanks so much to everyone who entered the challenge!  If you missed the tutorial, you can still read it here. […]

  8. […] also used the tutorial from the Scribble This! Challenge #2 to get rid of the […]

  9. I meant to leave a comment here last night when I was working on Challenge 3, which is actually the first time I was trying everything.  Thank you so much for these wonderful tutorials.  I have a ton of practicing to do, but my pics are looking better already.  Thanks for taking the time to share all that you know.  I will definitely be following along – your blog is an amazing resource and filled with awesomel inspiration! :)

  10. Wow! Thanks Lisa I went and fixed the “dingies” on a lot of my card photos :) They look so much nicer now.

  11. […] Lucy! She also fixed the levels to get rid of the grey gloom — you can read more about that here in this tutorial.  Lucy used iPhoto to make her adjustments, and that’s perfectly okay for the challenges […]

  12. Oh, fabulous, my BFF just sent me your link; can’t wait to try this (soon as I wrestle some dust bunnies before company arrives)!!! Just uploaded Photoshop Elements & wasn’t sure where to start to learn it — this is AWESOME!!!  ;-O  TFS!!!  I’ll be checking back into your blog more soon!!!  ;-) 

  13. Oh My Heck!!! this was the best information!!! it is like night & day with the photos on my blog! thank you soooo much for sharing the information!! I have had PGE 7 for about 7 months with not a clue how to use it…now…I am learning!!!

  14. Dear Lisa many thanks…I just try it today and it makes my CARD Photo looks very nice many many thanks for the gratis vertion on GIMP too…Love, Monika

  15. Thank you Lisa for the great tutorial.  I’m playing around redoing some of my jewelry picts.  What a difference!

    Thanks for sharing!

  17. […] you’ve set your white balance and you’re still having problems, check out this tutorial that I wrote on how to fix a photo’s white balance using levels using photoshop or […]

  18. This was a terrific tutorial Lisa! Thanks for teaching me something I’ve been wanting to know!

  19. Susie nam says:

    I can’t wait to try!!! I’m always tweaking more than I want to in order to turn the gray to white.
    This is so helpful!!!

  20. That is a great tutorial, I use Paint.Net and it doesn’t have the eye droppers. I still found the first part of the tutorial made the photo look so much better! Thank you so much for sharing this info.

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