The Secret Behind Levels VS Curves in Photoshop


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Why Curves and Levels Are Important

Curves and Levels are the bread and butter of Photo Editing, but it can be difficult to know which one to use. Today we analyze both, and give the strengths and weakness of each. I also cover when I use Levels and when I use curves, and how to make the process more simple.

Today’s Episode Timeline

  • 0:03 – Adjustment Layers are like Jelly Beans
  • 1:30 – What Curves and Levels have to do with editing.
  • 2:40 – Overview of when I use Curves
  • 3:15 – Overview of when I use Levels
  • 4:40 – Explaining input and output levels
  • 7:00 – Showing the parallels between Levels and curves
  • 8:20 – Drastic changes with Curves
  • 9:30 – How to make Curves very user friendly
  • 13:30 – Choosing your black point, grey point and white point.
  • 14:00 – A great tip for people who shoot with a grey Card
  • 13:30 – Choosing your black point, grey point and white point.
  • 16:30 – Teach me something about Curves and Levels

What to use if you don’t like graphs

There is a Hand Tool in the Curves Adjustment Layer that will allow you to click directly in your image and change your values and Colors based on where you click. It takes all the technical stuff out of editing, and just leaves the fun. Highly suggested.


In general, curves are a bit more user friendly, and will allow you to make more dramatic changes than levels. With the ability to change things drastically comes the ability to either really mess an image up, or make it great.
Here is when I will use Curves


Levels are perfect for large global Adjustments such as making the Lights of an entire image a little less bright. They are a bit more subtle than curves.
Here is when I use Levels

  • Making subtle changes
  • Adding slight Color to Highlights and Shadows (as depicted in the image be Annie Leibovitz below)
  • Making white leves slightly darker so things don’t look blown out

Skills You Will Learn

  • Coloring
  • Tone

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