How to Adjust Brightness and Contrast in Photoshop Elements 9

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

The Brightness/Contrast command in Photoshop Elements doesn’t always do a great job of brightening (making an image darker or lighter) or adding or deleting contrast. The problem with the Brightness/Contrast command is that it applies the adjustment equally to all image areas.

When using the Brightness/Contrast command, select only the areas that need the correction. After you make your selection, choose Enhance→Adjust Lighting→Brightness/Contrast.

The Brightness/Contrast adjustment is best reserved for correcting selected areas (left) rather tha

The Brightness/Contrast adjustment is best reserved for correcting selected areas (left) rather than the entire image (right).

If you want real horsepower when it comes to correcting the brightness and contrast (and even the color) in your image, look no further than the Levels command. You can get a taste of what Levels can do by using Auto Levels. The Levels command, its manual cousin, offers much more control.

Keep in mind that Levels can be used on your entire image, a single layer, or a selected area. You can also apply the Levels command by using an adjustment layer. Here’s how it works:

  1. In Edit Full mode, choose Enhance→Adjust Lighting→Levels.

    The Levels dialog box appears, displaying a histogram. This graph displays how the pixels of the image are distributed at each of the 256 available brightness levels. Shadows are shown on the left side of the histogram, midtones are in the middle, and highlights are on the right.

    Adjust lighting levels in the Levels dialog box.

    Adjust lighting levels in the Levels dialog box.
  2. Choose Window→Info to open the Info panel.

  3. Set the black and white points manually by using the eyedroppers in the dialog box; first select the White Eyedropper tool and then move the cursor over the image.

  4. Look at the Info panel, try to find the lightest white in the image, and then select that point by clicking it.

    The lightest white has the highest RGB values.

  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4, using the Black Eyedropper tool and trying to find the darkest black in the image.

    The darkest black has the lowest RGB values. When you set the pure black and pure white points, the remaining pixels are redistributed between those two points.

    You can also reset the white and black points by moving the position of the white and black triangles on the input sliders (just below the histogram). Or you can enter values in the Input Levels boxes. The three boxes represent the black, gray, and white triangles, respectively. Use the numbers 0 to 255 in the white and black boxes.

  6. Use the Gray Eyedropper tool to remove any colorcasts by selecting a neutral gray portion of your image, one in which the Info panel shows equal values of red, green, and blue.

    If your image is grayscale, you can’t use the Gray Eyedropper tool.

    If you’re not sure where there’s a neutral gray, you can also remove a colorcast by choosing a color channel from the Channel pop-up menu and doing one of the following:

    • Choose the Red channel and drag the midtone slider to the right to add cyan or to the left to add red.

    • Choose the Green channel and drag the midtone slider to the right to add magenta or to the left to add green.

    • Choose the Blue channel and drag the midtone slider to the right to add yellow or to the left to add blue.

  7. If your image requires it, adjust the output sliders at the bottom of the Levels dialog box.

    Moving the black triangle to the right reduces the contrast in the shadows and lightens the image. Moving the white triangle to the left reduces the contrast in the highlights and darkens the image.

  8. Adjust the midtones (or gamma values) with the gray triangle input slider.

    The default value for gamma is 1.0. Drag the triangle to the left to lighten midtones and drag to the right to darken them. You can also enter a value.

  9. Click OK to apply your settings and close the dialog box.

    Your image should be greatly improved.

When you click the Auto button, Elements applies the same adjustments as the Auto Levels command. Note the changes and subsequent pixel redistribution made to the histogram after you click this button.