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What you learned: How to brighten a dark photo to reveal engaging details
Add a Levels adjustment layer
- Click the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and choose Levels.
Apply Levels settings to brighten and add contrast
- In the Properties panel, drag the white slider directly under the histogram to the left to set the very lightest tones in the photo to white. If you Option-drag (MacOS) or Alt-drag (Windows) you’ll see a mask view that can help you evaluate how far to drag by revealing which areas will become pure white without detail.
- Drag the gray slider to the left to brighten the midtones.
- Drag the black slider slightly to the right to set the darkest tones to black, which increases contrast.
Control which parts of the photo are affected
- Select the Brush tool and set black as the Foreground color in the Toolbar. Make sure the layer mask is highlighted on the Levels adjustment layer in the Layers panel. Then paint with black on that adjustment layer mask where you want to hide the brightening effect.
- Reduce the Opacity of the Brush tool to paint on the adjustment layer mask with gray where you want to partially conceal the brightening effect.
- If you change your mind and want to reveal the brightening effect at full strength again, change the Foreground color in the Toolbar to white. Then paint with white on the adjustment layer mask.
Save your work
- Choose File > Save as to save a copy of the photo in PSD format with the adjustment layer intact. This gives you the flexibility to edit the adjustment again without directly changing the photo.
- When you need a copy of the photo in another format, like a JPEG to post online, open the PSD, choose File > Save as, and choose the format you need in the Save as window.
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