The difference between Levels and Curves in Photoshop

Nov 10, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

The difference between Levels and Curves in Photoshop

Nov 10, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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You can adjust the tonality of the photos using either Levels or Curves. But how to know which to use? And what are the differences anyway? Unmesh Dinda a.k.a. PiXimperfect shares a video about the differences between these two tools. He uses an interesting analogy, comparing them with different types of calculators. So if you’re wondering what exactly makes Levels and Curves different, this video should make it easier to understand.

YouTube video

Unmesh compares Levels and Curves to a regular and scientific calculator. There are the similarities between the two: both are calculators and they are both used to do math. Just like both Levels and Curves are used to adjust the tonality of the images.

But, the regular calculator is easy to use and performs some basic operations, while the scientific calculator is more complicated and you need to get used to using it. If you want to perform advanced math operations, you can’t use a regular calculator, but you have to use the scientific one. In this analogy, Levels tool is like the regular calculator, while Curves can be compared to the scientific calculator. You can observe a regular calculator as a simplified version of the scientific one – so similarly, Levels is kinda like a simplified version of Curves.

Basically, you can do the same stuff with both Levels and Curves – you can make the highlights, midtones and shadows brighter or darker. You can also add different tints to them. However, there are some things you can do with Curves that Levels can’t achieve. With Curves, you can add more points to the curve and make specific areas of the tone darker or brighter. The Curves tool simple gives you more options and a more refined editing.

Which of these tools you’ll choose is totally a matter of your personal preference. Still, keep in mind that Curves give you more options. Personally, once I got used to using Curves, it’s been my preferred method for adjusting contrast and color grading the photos. Maybe because I used a scientific calculator a lot in high school. :) If you’re still struggling with the logic behind them, you can learn more on this link. And then, test your knowledge of Curves here.

[Difference Between Levels and Curves in Photoshop | PiXimperfect]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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One response to “The difference between Levels and Curves in Photoshop”

  1. Edward Engel Avatar
    Edward Engel

    Good points well taken. On most ocassions I utilize both. Using Levels I correct the Black / White points of the image to get a general contrast range I desire. I rarely if ever use the mid point.

    I then bring up curves adjustment and globally fine tune and selectively fine tune specific areas of the image depending on its final output of either digital viewing or a printed output. Predetermined paper selection and whether it is to be a monochrome or color print will dictate how and what to adjust in the image with the curves adjustment.

    If I am attempting to reproduce the most accurate light and color from an image I made. The use of the curves adjustment exclusively in the Lab color space for all adjustments is my preferred method. The time spent doing it this way is well worth it to get the best print from the captured image.

    Color management and print output……always work in progress….there’s always something…?