Often times when you take photos with your camera’s Automatic mode, the images might come out too dark or too bright. The best the way to avoid that problem is to learn how to use your exposure compensation settings in your digital camera, by opening your aperture, or sometimes raising your ISO to increase your digital camera’s sensitivity to light.
Thanks to digital photography, however, it’s pretty easy to learn how to lighten dark photos in Photoshop or other similar photo editors. Here are a few methods you might try, using a recent version of Photoshop CS.
Let’s start with this underexposed image. Open it in Photoshop or an image editor which support layers.
All of these methods will require you to duplicate the background layer of the photo. In the Layer’s palette, click the on top right triangle, and then select Duplicate Layer.
Screen Blend Method
One of the quickest ways to lighten a photo in Photoshop is to use Screen Blend mode. Open your photo in Photoshop and duplicate the background layer. In the layer’s palette, click on the Normal blend mode button and change it to Screen.
Screen blending mode always lightens an image, but you are somewhat limited in how much you control you have over its effect. You can lower the opacity of the screen blend layer if the photo becomes too bright.
If you want to have more control over the exposure corrections, you might try the Levels command. Duplicate the background layer and click on Image>Adjustments>Levels. In the resulting controls box, you will see a histogram that reflects the pixel distribution in your image. Sliding the far right arrow under the graph toward the left will affect the white/highlight areas of the image. There’s much more to Levels than what I touch on here, but it’s one method you might try.
All these methods have a similar effect on how they lighten your image, but sometimes one works better than the other. This method involves using the Shadow/Highlight controls. This method is particularly useful if say one aspect of your image is too dark or light.
Click on Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlights. The default setting will be 50%. Photoshop assumes that your image will be too dark, so it defaults to the bright side. But if it makes your image too bright, simply adjust the Shadows slider toward the left or right to get the correction you want. And of course use the Highlights slider to correct areas that are too light.
One of the least useful methods, I think anyway, is to use the standard Brightness/Contrast controls. Click on Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast. This method typically affects your entire photo and not just the shadow areas. However, the tool has been improved in Photoshop CS3 and CS4, so it may work well for some underexposed images. Give it a try.
You don’t want to rely on Photoshop or other image editors to always fix exposure problems in your photo, but sometimes it’s difficult to set the correct exposure in-camera when you’re shooting say candid shots or when you’re shooting in mix lighting conditions. So Photoshop is helpful in these cases.
Also, if you’re concerned about the loss of detail in underexposed or overexposed shots, you should consider shooting in RAW mode, which enables you to get more control over exposure settings, when you edit them in a RAW image editor. I will explain this further in a future article.
Let us know how these techniques work out for you, and what other techniques you use to lighten images in your favorite image editor.