How to Make Your Photos Better Using Paint.NET Levels

Add a little pop to dull images by adjusting the contrast

If you feel that your photos are a little flat and lacking punch, using the levels feature in Paint.NET can give a boost to pictures that are low in contrast.

Instructions in this article apply to version 4.2 of the Paint.NET image editing software for Windows, not to be confused with the website of the same name.

How to Open the Levels Dialog in Paint.NET

Launch Paint.NET and open a photo that you feel lacks contrast, then go to Adjustments > Levels to open the Levels dialog.

A screenshot of Paint.Net with the Levels command highlighted

Even if you're used to making levels adjustments in other image-editing software, this dialog may appear a little intimidating at first sight with its two histograms. When adjusting for contrast, there are two features that you should focus on: the Input sliders (on the left) and the Output Histogram (on the right). 

A screenshot of Paint.Net with the Levels Adjustment window highlighted

How to Adjust the Input and Output Levels Sliders in Paint.NET

Adjusting the Input sliders will change the Output Histogram. As you do so, you'll see the changes to the image take affect in real time. If the image was underexposed, the histograms are central with empty space above (the light end) and below (the dark end). To improve the appearance of the image, stretch the Output Histogram so that there is almost no space above or below it. To accomplish this:

  1. Slide the top Input slider down until it is almost level with the top of the Input Histogram. You'll see that this causes the Output Histogram to stretch upward.

    A screenshot of Paint.Net with the upper input slider highlighted
  2. Slide the bottom Input slider upward to stretch the Output Histogram downward.

    A screenshot of Paint.Net with the bottom input slider highlighted
  3. You can further tweak the image using the Output sliders on the right side. Moving the middle Output slider down causes the image to darken, and raising the slider lightens the image. When you're satisfied with how the image looks, select OK.

    A screenshot of Paint.Net with the Output slider and OK button highlighted
  4. Go to File > Save As to save the edited image.

    Go to File > Save As to save the edited image.

In most cases, you'll only want to adjust the middle Output slider, but sometimes the top slider can help a photo if used carefully. For example, let's say you've taken a photo with lots of contrast and a few small areas burned out to pure white, such as bright patches in a sky of storm clouds. In that case, you could drag the top slider down a little to add a slight gray tone to those areas. However, if the white areas are large, this can make the photo look flat, so be cautious.