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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

3 Tutorial: Underexposed Photos

There are many ways you can lighten dark photos in Photoshop. In fact, there are usually many ways to achieve a particular results when working with Photoshop. The one you eventually choose, would depend on the photo and your level of expertise in Photoshop. It involves a bit of trial and error and some experimentation. Here are some techniques that I use often when brightening a dark photograph.

As an example this is the image we will be working with. Our objective is to lighten the background and bring back some details in the foreground as well.


Ready? Let’s get started.


Step 1 Brightness and Contrast

  • Open up the photo in Photoshop.
  • I always like to duplicate the layer before applying any adjustments, just in case I go too far and make a mistake, the original image isn’t affected. Press Ctrl + J or Cmd +J to duplicate the layer
  • Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness and Contrast and play with the sliders a bit, till you get the desired result.


New users would be tempted to use brightness slider to lighten their dark photographs. While it is easy to use, it only does what I would call a fairly good job of lightening your photos. Any time you are find yourself pushing the brightness slider too far, you are better off using any of the other mentioned ways or else it would be evident that you brightened your photo in post processing.

Step 2 Levels

You can summon the levels dialog box by going to Image > Adjustments > Levels or hitting (Ctrl/Cmd + L). Immediately, you are greeted by a histogram. Histograms in image processing and digital cameras let you know how many pixels or each brightness value are distributed in your image. Having graph lean towards towards the black slider means your photo is predominantly dark; if the graph leans towards the white marker, that means your photo is predominantly bright.

You can use Levels to lighten photographs as follows:

  • As always, feel free to duplicate the layer before you apply any adjustments. (Ctrl/Cmd + J)
  • With the duplicate layer selected, hit Ctrl + L and you will see the Levels dialog with the histogram.
  • Start moving the white slider under Input levels towards the center. As previously mentioned, if you are having to move the slider too far in to get what you want, perhaps you are better off with one of the advanced methods.

  • If you looking for a drastic change you can play with the Output Levels slider, but note that this time you would have to move the black slider inwards to brighten.

Tip: Hold down the Alt Key while dragging and Photoshop will show you the overexposed areas in the photo. You want to keep this area to a minimum!

Step 3 Curves (extra)

Curves gives you the greatest control when doing a job like

this. It is just a bit complicated and not as intuitive as the brightness/contrast sliders, but it also gives you finer control. I would suggest using one of the presets when working with curves for the first time. There is even a preset to lighten your photos. Go ahead and try it out:

  • Duplicate the layer and select the duplicate layer you just created
  • Hit Ctrl/Cmd + M to show the curves dialog. Choose “Lighter(RGB)” from the Presets drop down.
  • You will notice slight brightening in your photo, if that is a little less and you need to lighten more, just click on the square that appears on the curve and while holding the click down, drag upwards.
  • As you move further from the baseline you would se e your photo lighten even further.

    how to lighten a picture in photoshop cs3

  • Choose the sweet spot and click OK

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