There are two methods to adjusting photographs in Photoshop; one of them makes permanent changes to your photo while the other makes reversible adjustments. This tutorial explores the option that allows you to reverse your adjustments to ensure the original photo document remains intact. This method involves using adjustment layers. This tutorial covers creating an adjustment layer, brightness/contrast, levels, hue/saturation, and color balance. 

Creating an Adjustment Layer

To create an adjustment layer, select the layer your photo is on and click on the "create new fill or adjustment layer" on the bottom of the layers palette:

A menu will appear with a list of options. The main ones we will deal with are brightness/contrast, levels, hue/saturation and color balance. Select the option you would like to adjust your image with and in the adjustments panel on the right hand side of the screen editing options will appear.


Select Brightness/Contrast to edit how bright you wish your image to be and/or the amount of contrast present in the image. Sliders will appear in the adjustments panel for you to manipulate and achieve your desired results. Moving the sliders to the left will darken the adjustment layer and create less contrast. Moving the sliders to the right will increase brightness and contrast.

The Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer can be used to only affect one section of an image. The brightness and contrast layer is a mask, which means that one can "erase" certain portions of the layer and allow the original image to come through. The mask is visible in the layers palette as a thumbnail on the adjustment layer. The pure white area on the layer is the 100% visible portion while the pure black are is the 100% invisible option. The grays in between are the partially visible areas.

To erase part of the upper layer, select the brush tool on the left hand side tools panel and change the color to black. Any area where you brush black on the Brightness/Contrast Layer will be made invisible, and the original unadjusted layer will show through.


Select Levels to edit the tonal range of your image. A histogram will appear in the adjustments panel; the histogram is a visual representation of the color tones in your image. The curve of the histogram represents the density of the data in different color ranges: the shadows—left part of chart, the mid-tones—middle of chart, and the highlights—right of chart.

When changing the brightness or contrast of the image, try to make sure no part of the histogram goes all the way to the left or the right. If it does, you have lost color information to completely black shadows on the left, or blown out highlights on the right.


The Hue/Saturation adjustment tool can affect three separate aspects of your image; hue, saturation and lightness. Adjust the image by altering the sliders for each of the options.

  • Hue: Moving the hue slider through the various color will alter how much of that color dominates in the image.

  • Saturation: Dragging the slider to the left will drain the image of color, as shown below, and moving it all the way to the left will create a monochromatic image. Dragging to the right will create greater saturation by making the colors of your image bolder.

  • Lightness: Dragging the sliders to the left will darken your image with pure black being at the far left end. Dragging to the right will lighten your image with pure white being at the far right end.

Color Balance

Select Color Balance to edit the balance of contrasting colors in your image. Generally you should have "Mid-tones" selected under "Tone" and check the "Preserve Luminosity" box at the bottom of the adjustments panel to prevent your image getting lighter or darker as you change the color. Click and drag the arrows along the color scales to adjust the colors of your image.

TIP: If at any time you want to go back and edit the Adjustment Layer you have made, simply right click on the layer, and select "Edit Adjustments".