CoffeeShop Editing 101: Easy Editing with Levels

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If you are new to Photoshop or PSE, you might not be aware of the editing power of the simple Levels adjustment layer.   You can use this one editing layer to brighten, darken, or add contrast to your image; simply by adjusting the blending mode.

CoffeeShop Editing 101:  Easy Editing with Levels

1.  Open your image.  Add a levels adjustment layer and don't touch the sliders or make any adjustments.

2.  Need to brighten/lighten your image?  Just put the levels layer in Screen blending mode.

3.  Too bright?  Just adjust the opacity.

4.  Need to darken your image?  Put the level layer in Multiply mode and adjust the opacity.

5.  Want some contrast?  Put the levels layer in Soft Light and adjust the opacity.

6.  Need more contrast?  Try Overlay blending mode.

Advanced Level Editing with Layer Masks

Add more than one levels adjustment layer to brighten skin, add contrast and even burn in a vignette. You have to be comfortable with using layer masks to follow this tutorial. I have a Editing 101 Layer Mask tutorial for new Photoshop/PSE users.

1.  Brighten Skin:  Add a levels adjustment layer, put it in screen blending mode, and click on the layer mask and edit, fill with black. Use a soft white brush at 100% and paint over skin.   I put this layer at 46% opacity.

Note:  Alt-shift (Option-shift in Mac) and click on the layer mask to see a red tint where you are painting for accuracy.

2.  Add  Contrast:  Copy the Screen (Brighten) layer (layer, duplicate layer or drag that layer to the "create a new layer" icon on the bottom left of the action pane).  Then put this layer in Soft Light or Overlay blending mode.

Then click on the layer mask and Ctrl-I (Command-I in Mac) to invert it.  This adds contrast to everything but the skin. I put this layer in Overlay, 38% opacity.

3.  Add a Vignette:  Add a new levels adjustment layer in Multiple blending mode.  Then select a soft black brush at 100% opacity, click on the layer mask, and paint over the center of the image.  This will add a darkened vignette around the edges.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!

Want all of my favorite CoffeeShop Actions or Design Elements in one simple download AND help support this blog? Just click here for my action pack or here for a download of some of my most popular design elements, storyboards, and textures. 


Kathy Roberson December 29, 2011 at 10:49 AM  

Thank you so much for these wonderful, helpful tutorials. Happy New Year!

Anke December 29, 2011 at 11:19 AM  

this is awesome! Thanks so much!

Anke December 29, 2011 at 11:20 AM  

that was wonderful. Thanks so much!

Rycrafty December 29, 2011 at 11:56 AM  

This was so helpful! I just discovered your blog a week ago and I have learned SO MUCH already!

Alison Douglass Photography December 29, 2011 at 12:33 PM  

Love this Rita! Thank you for making it easy to understand!!!

Beckie December 29, 2011 at 1:18 PM  

Thank you so much. This is so much easier for me to follow than the video tutorials.

Monika December 29, 2011 at 1:57 PM  

Wow, made such a huge difference to my trial photo, so will definatelly use it all the time;) Thank you again for sharing with us! December 29, 2011 at 3:44 PM  

I agree with Beckie: this is easier for me to follow than a video. I sincerely appreciate your generosity.

Rita December 29, 2011 at 3:58 PM  

I also learn better from photos than videos. I have to keep on going back if I am watching a video, so I prefer to write my tutorials rather than record them. I am so happy that you don't mind!

Becky M December 29, 2011 at 6:14 PM  

Amazing! I play with levels, but never really know what I'm doing. This is fantastic, thanks.

Kathy December 29, 2011 at 7:01 PM  

What a great tutorial! Thank you! I hope you don't mind that I pinned this.


Rita December 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM  

I loved that you pinned it Kathy! And thank you everyone, I am going to try to post more tutorials like this one.

Lisa December 29, 2011 at 10:16 PM  

I love this. Thank you so much. Often times I never know what to do besides a levels adjustment so these adjustments are a great way to practice without being overly complicated.

Anonymous December 29, 2011 at 10:34 PM  

thankyou so much for another brilliant blog, i am still wading through your amazing information as i havent been following your page all that long, but now i am addicted!!!
Thanks again :)


Meagan Thompson December 30, 2011 at 10:14 AM  

I am glad you explained this for me! Its like you have telepathy or something! :)

luckeelady December 31, 2011 at 10:59 AM  

Got a question... how else can you invert the mask instead of doing control-l because it just brings up a layers box for me? What am I doing wrong?

Rita December 31, 2011 at 11:38 AM  

Ctrl-I should invert the mask!

Kat January 1, 2012 at 7:59 PM  

AWESOME post! I need to learn how to do these in Lightroom.

Jami January 15, 2012 at 10:17 PM  

You are always teaching me something new. I have used levels alot, but never that way.Thank you, Rita!

Deborah February 21, 2012 at 1:09 PM  

great tip . . . thank you so much!