The Capture One levels tool is simple and can have a profound effect on the quality of your photo. It allows you to set your black point and white point as well as allowing you to control the tonal balance of your photo. Check out our Capture One class.
Understanding the Capture One Levels Tool
The levels tool appears as a histogram with a couple of lines over the top. Each line connects a point on the top to the bottom of the histogram. At the end of each line is a small arrow. With the exception of the top center, you can move these points around.
By adjusting the black point, white point and mid point, you can makes an image “pop” more.
This arrow sets the black point. In this example, the black point has been dragged over to just clip the left side of the histogram. All pixels with a value darker than this will end up full black.
This arrow sets the white point. In this example, the white point has been dragged over to just clip off part of the long tail on the right side of the histogram. All pixels with a value lighter than this will end up full white.
The middle arrow on the bottom sets the mid point. Adjusting the mid point controls the tonal balance of the image. Drag it to the right and the image will get generally darker. Drag it to the left and the image will get generally brighter. Pixels with tones between the mid point and black point will have their tonal range stretched or compressed. The same is true between the mid point and white point.
I think of the mid point as controlling the overall feel of the image.
The top two arrows control the output tones. That is, if you move the arrow on the far left towards the right, you make the darkest color in the image lighter than true black. The right arrow on the top right is for setting the output white level. If you move the arrrow on the right towards the left, you would make whites turn grey.
I rarely adjust the output levels. Doing so will reduces overall contrast because you are choosing to use less than the entire tonal range the image file can support. Reducing the tonal range can be useful in some situations, particularly when printing. Many printing systems will not put any ink down for fully white pixels which causes those spots to look different. Reducing the white output level prevents this.
Auto Adjusting Levels in Capture One
Levels can be easily adjusted automatically. There are 2 ways to auto adjust the levels. You can click the “A” button at the top of the levels tool . Doing so will cause Capture One to automatically set a black and white point and pick a mid point to create a balanced exposure. Alternatively, if you use the global auto adjust (Windows: Ctrl-L, Mac Command-L), you can enable “Levels” under the Adjustments->Auto Adjustments menu.
I personally find that using the global auto adjust does a good job setting the black and white points. It gives me a good starting point. Your mileage may vary.
Andrew is a photography instructor teaching students of all skill levels in Austin, TX through Precision Camera and independently in San Diego, CA. He runs workshops around the United States.
He is a self taught experiential learner who is addicted to the possibilities that new (to him) gear open up. He loves to share the things he has worked out. Andrew started with a passion for landscape and night photography and quickly branched out to work in just about every form of photography. He is an ex-software developer with extensive experience in the IT realm.
Andrew is a full time wedding and commercial photographer in both Austin and San Diego. Andrew is a club founder and multi-time past president of North Austin Pfotographic Society.