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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.

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

  • Adjusting the Colors of Highlights, mid-tones and Shadows
  • Adjusting very specific values (Using the Hand)
  • Creating Vignettes (Pull RGB up in center slightly)
  • In Compositing, often you will need to Change Colors, Lights and darks to make an image fit. Curves handle this very well
  • Making drastic changes


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
  • Making white leves slightly darker so things don’t look blown out


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