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Levels vs Curves vs Highlights vs Contrast question #1
Mary D's picture
by Mary D
July 16, 2012 - 12:40pm

I'm hoping someone can help me understand how the differences between these controls and why I would choose one over the other. It seems to me that they all affect my photo similarly, and I'm not sure what I'm doing if I use them “on top” of each other. I often find that I will use the new “Auto Enhance” feature, which uses both curves and shadows, then I often make adjustments with levels afterward. Is this affecting the curves histogram? Are there some photo subjects that respond best to one control over another (i.e., landscapes vs portraits?) What has been your experience in using and choosing Curves, Levels, Hightlights/Shadows, Contrast? Perhaps there's a tutorial on this site that I haven't found. Any and all tips appreciated! Thanks.

Walter Rowe's picture
by Walter Rowe
July 16, 2012 - 2:59pm

There is significant overlap in what each of these controls does to the image visually. How they do them mathematically behind the scenes may differ. I recommend getting a good book that helps explain each of these controls and how to use them.

Michael Ball's picture
by Michael Ball
July 16, 2012 - 11:00pm

As far as general use, yes, Levels and Curves are more similar than different as to what the can do, but curves allows you to be more advanced with your edits. Most of the time, it’s simply based on preference as to what you would rather use.

As far as tutorials, there are in fact live training videos from ApertureExpert on this very subject! :) Check out sessions 10 and 11 here:

David  Moore's picture
by David Moore
July 18, 2012 - 2:46pm

Hi Mary
Everyone uses these controls slightly differently. I can only tell you what I do. I don’t use levels in AP I use curves. In photoshop I will sometime use Levels to set end points and in aperture I use the exposure and black point slider to set end points. Curves are way more powerful than levels so I use curves for mid tone contrast but keep an eye on the added saturation with curves and if too much use the Luminance option that Joseph talks about in his videos.

Michael really enjoying your comments on things you have been posting. Thanks, learning a lot from you. keep it up.
Twitter= @davidbmoore
Scottsdale AZ

Walter Rowe's picture
by Walter Rowe
July 19, 2012 - 1:25pm

There is one feature that Levels and Curves do that the other two do not. You can use Levels and Curves to change the whitepoint by dragging to the left the right-most arrow along the bottom of the graph or histogram. If your image look too dull and dark, select the Levels or Curves brick and look at the histogram. If this goes flat before it gets close to the right edge, drag the right-most arrow to the left towards where the histogram drops off. Play with it a bit while looking at the image to see how it affects the look.

David  Moore's picture
by David Moore
July 19, 2012 - 1:56pm

Mary sorry I didn’t read you original post close enough. My bad. The Vidoes that Michael mention is a great place to start.

I havent gotten in the habbit of using Enhancement yet. I think for a new person and old guy like me it would be great to start off with. Then any adjustment done to any brick will be handled in the correct order by Apple. I believe the order the bricks appear is how they will be executed which makes sense cuz WB Exposure and Black slider are on top.
Twitter= @davidbmoore
Scottsdale AZ

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