Capture One is, as I said many times over, very advanced. To get straight to it: the Levels tool is, when used correctly, genuiely powerful. Here, I want to reveal to you some of the workings of it and for what I use it for. But before we start, I should point that any Levels tool in an image editor works relatively the same; it’s an industry standard. The differences in C1P are mostly UX and UI-wise. Alright, let’s get to it.
How to use/what it does
Located in the bottom left of the interface, the Levels panel has the ability to modify the brightness of differents points in the image with all three R, G, B channels at once or individually. It is mainly used to add contrast to an image more precisely than any other way possible. If you look at the interface, you’ll see 6 movable points (5, in fact, as the top one for the midtones can’t move). The bottom left and right sliders control the black and white points, respectively. I’ll go back to that. But before, the top left and right points in the graph are something that most Levels tool in other software do not possess. And what they do is fairly simple. When you move the top left point right, you effectively increase the opacity of a pure white layer. It’s not increasing each pixel light value by X, it’s evenly distributing a white coat of paint no manner if the pixel underneath is lighter or darker. When you slide the point completely to the right, you will obtain a 100%, #ffffff, white image, no matter what you started with. The exact same is true for the top right slider except that it puts on a black layer instead of a white. Those are fairly simple and fairly useless as they don’t provide a way to add contrast, which is the most popular way to use the Levels.
Now, let’s get back to the bottom left and right sliders. When you move the lefty one to the right, you are decreasing the lightness value (0 to 255) of all the three channels (assuming you are in the RGB option) of the shadows pixels by a certain amount. The reason why it does not raise the value, making your image brighter, is because you are stretching the histogram toward the left, thus decreasing the pixel values. The exact opposite is true when sliding the right slider to the left. A rule of thumb for adding contrast to the photograph is moving both bottom sliders toward the center. However, it should be noted that, since every image is different, the Levels are really a game of tweaking the sliders and keeping what looks best.
Another way to utilize the Levels tool is to modify the brightness of only one of the three particular channels that constitute a pixel. For example, if you had a nice red and orange warm sunset image and desired to add contrast and colour only to the sunset part, you’d probably play with the Red and Blue channels. By boosting the Reds and taming down the Blues, you’d glorify that warm red feel to the photo. That’s how the colour theory works.
The middle slider brightens or darkens the midtones.
As with any tool, there are tips that can help you get a better result and experience. Here are the ones I use.
If you are using a smaller screen such as one from a laptop or just want the ultimate precision while working on your files, you can manually enter a value from 0 to 255 in the two small boxes on top of the histogram instead of moving the slider.
You can also move the cursor on the image and know exactly what’s the value of the area you’re on by giving a look at the numbers on the top of the preview. Capture One also gives you information as to where it is situated on the histogram. Just look at it and you’ll see an orange line indicating the position.
Use in real world
Finally, how do I make use of the Levels tool present in Capture One Pro? The first one is to easily locate the center of the light that I use to make background white. To explain, I place a strobe behind a sheet of Savage Translum to achieve pure white background. Since there is a gradient created, you may want to move the light to place the brighter spot (center) of the said gradient directly behind the subject. That’s hard to do only by looking at the image. So, I grab the left slider head and slide it almost completely to the right. That crushes every colour to black except for the brightest, which happen to be the center of the gradient.
Another way to take profit from the tool is the modify the colours with it. Let’s say you’d want to modify the “overall colour profile” of your photograph, then you’d only modify one channel. Too much red in the picture? Play with the Reds slider. Want to add yellow? Decrease the Blues. This sometimes works better than the Color Editor because it’s more global, less targeted. Also, by using the colour theory you can modify colours with a more precise way. For example, reducing the Greens will boost the Reds because they are opposite colours on the wheel.
The final use for me is to add contrast to a photograph. I don’t like adding contrast using the dedicated slider in the Exposure tab for the simple reason that it’s not precise and does not allow any tweaking.
This blog post was intended to give you an overview of how the Levels tool works in Capture One Pro. The best way to get a feel of it is to start using the tool in various scenarios.
Do you like when I focus on a specific tool in C1P? Tell me below!