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Levels vs Curves in Photoshop | Day 23

Working with Levels in Photoshop

Levels is a way to manipulate the histograms we talked about on Day 14. Using dark, gray, and white sliders under the levels you can change in input and output levels. This change effects contrast and shading in your image.

In Photoshop, you can find the levels adjustment by clicking Command-L (Cntrl-L), or by going to Image> Adjustments> Levels.
In Ps Elements, you can find this by going to Enhance> Adjust Lighting> Levels.

Working with Curves in Photoshop

Curves is also histogram manipulation. It works much like levels, but allows an even greater amount of control over each tone within the range of pixels.

In Photoshop, you can find the levels adjustment by clicking Command-M (Cntrl-M), or by going to Image> Adjustments> Curves.
In Ps Elements, you can find this by going to Enhance> Adjust Color> Color Curves.

In Ps Elements, you won’t have as much control over your curves, and from what I can tell in my research, is controlled by using sliders again, like levels.

Comparing Levels vs Curves in Photoshop

Remember how we said the histogram ranges from 0 (true black) to 255 (true white)? Levels uses a slider so you have three points of manipulation – blacks, whites and mid grays. For many photos, this is sufficient. Within curves, however, you can place several anchor points along the curve and manipulate several pixel areas separately. You can use the dropper to edit only specific parts of the image.

While both are powerful, levels is quicker but curves is more specific.

Don’t forget these aweseome girls who are sharing this 31 Days journey with us:

31 Days of Grace :: Chatting at the Sky
31 Days to an Inspired Table :: My First Kitchen
31 Days to a Less Messy Nest :: Nesting Place
31 Days of Living Simply :: Remodeling This Life
31 Days of Autumn Bliss :: The Inspired Room
31 Days to More. . .With Less :: Beauty and Bedlam
31 Days to a Better Photo :: My 3 Boybarians
31 Days to Stress Free Entertaining :: Reluctant Entertainer


  1. thank you for talking about curves, I had no idea how to use it! now I do and its SIMPLE! wow! thanks! 😉

  2. Great one Darcy!
    This was an easy to understand explanation of levels and curves.
    Girl, you are a great teacher, and I am learning something new everyday!
    Keep it up, only a few days left, and then you can take a break!

  3. You are creating an amazing resource with all these tutorials!
    Thank you so much for sharing, teaching, and inspiring us all!!

    Ps – Ditto Mr. Scott O — Keep up the great work – only a few days left and then you can take a break!! 🙂

  4. Another great lesson! You have done a great job Darcy! Thank you 🙂

    Blessings for your day!
    PS Check out my photos from yesterday of our now 3 yr old daughter. Would love your feedback 🙂

  5. This is so amazingly helpful! I have photoshop on my computer, but rarely use it because I really don’t understand it. Thank you so much for doing this! I look forward to tomorrow!


  6. Thank you so much for these tutorials! I have been using photoshop for awhile but have always been intimidated by levels and curves, but now I totally get it! All of your posts have been so helpful!

  7. I’m not sure I’ve commented before, but I have followed this blog post serie since October 1st and I think it’s sooo good!
    Please, pretty please – can you turn it in to a pdf-file by the end? For easier reference when sitting and trying out the different settings on the camera – far from the computer… Please…

    • If not by the end – as soon after as possible. My husband and I are researching our options now. 🙂

      Thank you.

  8. How do you use the dropper to edit parts of the image? I can’t figure out the dropper to save my life.

  9. I have a completely unrelated question, since you’ve been a photographer for a while now. Are there rules, written or unwritten, about taking photos of people out in public? Like the clerk at the grocery or the painter painting a house up the street? Or the guy who comes to fix your heat? How do you handle that?

    • Karen –

      this is a great question!

      I can write a post about this… it’s a discussion so much bigger than comments. Thanks for the suggestion! be on the lookout for a post soon. 🙂


  10. Darcy, I know I’ve thanked you repeatedly already, but I have to again. Even the timing of your tutorials is a blessing. A photographer friend and I are going out tomorrow with my oldest daughter as model, just so I can play with my camera. I can already imagine being able to use your 3 tutorials to begin to learn to edit.

    So, again, thank you for taking the time to do this. =)


  11. Thank you so much for doing this and sharing! BTW, LOVE the piece playing in the background of your levels video 🙂

  12. Thank you so much for the information you give here, it is such great help! I used to be really intimidated by photoshop, but this is really helping 🙂

  13. levels are my favorite. I usually apply them in picnik vs photoshop. easier for me to use for some reason.

  14. I’m finally beginning to understand how to edit with levels and curves. Thank you! Now to find out how much of what you showed is possible in Photoshop Elements or Lightroom (the two programs I have).