We all have taken low-light pictures. If you are shooting in low light or high contrast, then that’s inevitable. Luckily, it’s easy to fix this in Photoshop.
Today’s article will show you 5 methods to handle low-light photos in Photoshop. All of these methods are very quick, but a few of them will give you more control than the rest.
5 easy ways to handle underexposed photos in Photoshop
Is your photo underexposed?
- Pro Tip: Use Adjustment Layers
5 easy ways to handle low-light photos in Photoshop
- 1. Brightness/Contrast
- 2. Shadows/Highlights
- 3. Levels
- 4. Curves
- 5. Blend Mode
- Final editing steps
Is your photo underexposed?
It sounds like a dumb question because if your photo is too dark, then it’s underexposed. But you should calibrate the screen first. A poorly calibrated display will cause images to look too bright or too dark.
For more accurate results, familiarize yourself with the Histogram light chart. This is a histogram showing the tonal range of the image, from 100% black on the leftmost edge of the x axis, to 100% white on the right edge. Not always, but ideally you should distribute the data evenly across the entire chart. If the data is focused on the left side of the histogram it is usually an indication that the image is underexposed.
Pro Tip: Use Adjustment Layers
The first four options that I describe below can be applied directly to the image or used Adjustment Layers (adjustment layers). You should use Adjustment Layers for most cases. It allows editing without destroying the original image, allowing you to fine-tune or even completely remove an edit later.
Here’s how you do it. Click the button Adjustment Layers at the bottom of the table Layers. Then select the tool you want to use, such as Brightness/Contrast or Curves.
5 easy ways to deal with low-light photos in Photoshop
When you need to lighten an image, the most obvious place to start is to enter Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast, or to select this tool on an Adjustment Layer.
Brightness / Contrast is a good, simple option to use if the overall image is too dark. The Brightness setting primarily targets midtons (the center area between the shadow and highlight), so it doesn’t affect the darkest and brightest points of the image.
Make sure the box is checked Preview, then move the slider to the right until the image is the brightness you want.
Adjusting color tone can sometimes cause flattening effects on image layers, so you may need to increase Contrast (Contrast) up a bit to compensate.
Another setting you’ll see just below Brightness / Contrast is Exposure. This can be an effective way when you want to correct the exposure of your photo.
While the Brightness setting targets midtone, Exposure increases or decreases all negative values in the image. It will lighten the highlights with the same value as it does with the shadows. This can cause them to be clipped, turning them into white areas without any details.
As such, the Exposure setting is best used to correct errors caused by the camera or for very small adjustments. Ideally, it only keeps RAW files.
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When you shoot in scenes with very high contrast, darker areas will often be underexposed. The Shadows / Highlights tool is a quick way to fix this.
Into the Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights, or create a new Adjustment Layer. A dialog box will open and automatically apply the default settings.
There are two sliders. Shadows lighten the darkest parts of the image. Highlights also darken the brightest parts. With box Preview Once selected, drag the Shadows slider to the right until the details in the darker areas of the image are as good as you like.
Next, move the Highlights slider, if necessary. This is a great way to further clarify details in bright areas, such as the sky.
The first two settings in the article allow you to adjust your images with the naked eye. The next two sections will allow you to make more precise corrections based on the lighting chart. Rest assured as both are very easy to use.
Levels is a tool for controlling the tonal and color range in your images. Open it by pressing Ctrl + L on Windows, Cmd + L on Mac or apply it on an Adjustment Layer, like the post mentioned above.
The main part of the Levels screen is a light chart with three sliders located below. The sliders on the left and right set the corresponding black and white points in the image.
But we are mainly interested in the slider in the middle, this affects the midtone. Just click and drag the slider to the left to brighten your image.
If the brightest parts of the image are also underexposed, brighten them by dragging the slider right to left. Try and position the slider equal to the edge of the right pixel group in the graph. Don’t be too “greedy”, otherwise everything to the right of the slider will be 100% white and no longer see any details.
Curves are similar to Levels, but give you more precise control over the tonal range of an image. It’s an integral part of dealing with photos in Photoshop, and it’s incredibly powerful. However, for quick exposure tweaking, it’s also very easy to use.
Open the Curves tool by pressing Ctrl + M or Cmd + M, or open it on an Adjustment Layer.
As with the Levels tool, Curves is chart-based. This time, instead of the slider, there is a diagonal that you need to manipulate to adjust the tonal range of the image. The left end of this diagonal represents the shadow points, and the right end represents the highlights.
To brighten the image, click on this line and drag it upwards. If the overall image is underexposed, then you can click somewhere near the middle of the line.
If you are trying to brighten the shadows then choose about a quarter from the left. Try and choose an area with a large amount of data on the chart.
The advantage of the Curves tool is that you can repeat this process as many times as you need. If the shadows are brightened, the highlights will become too bright, then click a quarter from the right edge and drag down to darken them again.
Each click adds a new point to this diagonal, and now it is a curve. To delete any point you don’t need, select the point and press the key Backspace.
5. Blend Mode
The last way to deal with underexposed photos is to use layers and blending modes.
Duplicate your photo layer by pressing Ctrl + J or Cmd + J. On the new layer, set the blend mode to Screen. The image will immediately become brighter.
If you want more, you can create more additional layers. Fine-tune the effect by reducing the opacity of the top layer.
Blend mode is quick, easy and flexible. It works well on completely underexposed images and is also great for doing local exposure corrections. For example, you can use Masks to select specific areas that you want to adjust or protect from changes that will be applied.
Final editing steps
Brightening up an underexposed photo can sometimes make it look “flat” or blurred. A few final editing steps will fix this error.
Use the Brightness / Contrast or Levels tools to increase contrast and sharpen your image a bit. Next, use tools Vibrance or Hue/Saturation to restore some of the lost color, if needed. You should now have a clean and beautiful looking photo.
As always with Photoshop, there are many ways to edit things, and often it doesn’t matter which method you choose. Just choose the one you feel most comfortable with, or give you the control you need.
What is the method you choose to correct underexposed photos? Share your favorite tips and advice with everyone in the comments below!
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