How to Fix an Underexposed Photo in Photoshop

How to Fix an Underexposed Photo in Photoshop

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One of the worst feelings as a photographer is having to send an image to the recycle bin because you missed on exposure. Before saying goodbye to an image, try bringing it back to life with the power of Photoshop. In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to bring up shadows, restore lost details, and rescue the original color in an image. Follow along with the free sample image!



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today we're going to show you how to rescue an underexposed photo in Photoshop did it whatever intro we have right now I can't keep track hey guys and welcome to phlearn my name is Aaron NACE you can find me on floor comm we make learning fun in this episode we're gonna show you how to rescue an underexposed photo this is something that's happened to me a bunch of times and I know it's happened to you too so we're gonna take those dark areas and we're gonna bring them up into the mid-tones of your photo now when you do that it's important to note that shadow areas in your image tend to be less saturated than mid-tones so as we take those shadow areas and bring them up we're also going to be correcting our saturation now best-case scenario you're working with a 16-bit raw photo it's gonna give you the most information possible so you can really work with those dark levels now if you don't have a 16-bit raw photo no big deal you can totally do this with an 8-bit JPEG and that's what we're gonna be doing in this episode so if you guys want to learn more about mastering adjustment layers in Photoshop you've gotta check out our bestseller how to master adjustment layers in Photoshop it's available right now and just enter the code youtube' you guys can save 10% on your phlearn pro subscription get access to that tutorials and every single other pro tutorial we've ever made don't forget to hit that subscribe button right down below let's go ahead and jump into Photoshop so here we are in Photoshop we've got an underexposed image and you can actually download this on phlearn comm just call the link right down below so the first thing we need to do is just brighten this up now I'm gonna grab an adjustment layer we're gonna go to curves and basically we can see our histogram here in the curves adjustment layer so you can see a lot of our information is stuck on the left meaning it's really really dark so we're gonna take our central point right about here and we're just gonna bring this up in that direction and basically what we're gonna do is just brighten up our image so we're pushing those dark areas and we're just making them brighter and brighter now this is starting to look pretty good in our darks but when you bring up the brightness of your entire image it's gonna start to lose information in the highlights and our highlights start to look horrible so the trick is to make this effect only visible in the shadows and to do that we're gonna use apply image so to start off let's show you guys how apply image actually work now I'm gonna go ahead and make a new layer here and just use my brush tool and just paint over my image again just to show you how apply image works now let's make another new layer on top of everything and I'm gonna go to image and down to apply image there we go we got our little dialog box now here we're gonna choose our layer to be merged and basically what it's gonna do is it's gonna take all of your layers then you've got here it's just gonna stick everything you see onto a new layer so let's go ahead and hit OK there so apply image you can see this was a blank layer now if I grab my move tool and let's say I shrink this down you can see it's literally everything on my entire image is now in one layer including this you know blue that I painted on earlier okay so that's basically how apply image works it just takes everything that it can see on your image like a snapshot of your photo and it puts it on to a layer now the cool thing with apply image is that you can actually use this on a layer mask as well and that's where the real power search come in so let's go ahead and click on we're on our curves adjustment layer I want to click on the layer mask now and we're gonna go to image and down to apply image and it's basically just gonna take a snapshot of everything that it sees and put it on your layer mask so as you can see here let's just show you the before and after what's going on here is it's actually hiding this curves adjustment right now it's hiding it from your shadows and keeping it visible in your highlights so that's actually the opposite of what we want if apply image ever does the opposite of what you want just click that invert button so here let's go ahead and click on invert and there we go now this effect is going to be visible in the shadows and not visible in the highlights so let's go ahead and hit OK there now I'm gonna hold alt or option and click here on my layer mask and we can see this is what the layer mask looks like for my curves adjustment layer literally it took an invert of the image and applied it on to the layer mask now we know that a layer masks the light areas are visible and the dark areas are invisible so basically what this is telling me is this curves adjustment layer is going to be in visible on lighter areas invisible on the darker airs which is exactly what we want right we want to take those dark areas and we want to make them a bit brighter so let's go ahead and click here let's just turn this layer off and on so we can see what it did so you can see it in fact did brighten up those shadows we really did rescue this image from being underexposed now you can see as i zoom in here that it really does in fact leave my highlights alone it's not affecting my highlights at all which is exactly what we want now remember earlier when we talked about shadow levels being less saturated than mid-tones that's a really big deal here because we need to take those shadow levels that we just we took some shadows and we brought them up to mid-tones so we need to make sure we bring our saturation up to match so all we need to do here is grab an adjustment layer I'm gonna go to hue / saturation and I'm just gonna bring my saturation up we're gonna go to about plus 15 now in this case this actually applies the saturation effect to the entire image we want it only to be visible where I made this brightness effect right so all we have to do is copy the layer mask from the curves adjustment layer to the hue saturation adjustment layer so hold alt or option + click and drag from one layer mask to another and it literally just duplicates that layer mask so here we can see turning this off and on it's a subtle change let's just turn this off and on I think we could get a little bit more saturation actually let's go I think we can go about +18 on the saturation and that starts to look really really nice and natural alright guys so let's go ahead and take a look at our before and after here's our before and the after so we can see how simple it is to rescue an underexposed image in Photoshop just remember as you bring those shadow levels up be sure to bring your saturation up with them as well so grab that curves adjustment layer stick an apply image onto the layer mask and don't forget to hit that in vert option it's super important so that's all there is to it guys now if you want to go even more in-depth we just released an awesome Pro tutorial called out of master adjustment layers in Photoshop Josie how to do like basically this times of thousand and it's included in your phlearn for a subscription so just follow the link on the screen or right down below you can learn more and you can save 10% by being an awesome phlearn Youtube subscriber thank you so much guys have a wonderful day a wonderful life learning later bye everyone I hope all right free bring your shadow levels all the way up now don't forget if you guys want to get free Photoshop tutorials every single week just that subscribe button on your screen right now we'll send them straight to your inbox

48 thoughts on “How to Fix an Underexposed Photo in Photoshop

  1. My picture came out with a green tint after applying the hue layer. What did I do wrong? (I didn't use the sample pic, i tried it on my own)

  2. I do this sort of thing an awful lot, but I tend to reach for levels before curves :; shrug :: old habit and all — but leveraging apply image to bring the adjustments into your image is a fantastic idea and timesaver!

  3. This is like what landscape photographers use to blend the sunset sky with the much darker foreground. You can have even more control using more selective luminosity masks, but it's unnecessary in this case. Apply image is the simplest form of luminosity masking. There's nothing wrong with a simple curve adjustment, it just looks different. Extreme shadow and highlight adjustments can get unnatural very quickly, and can introduce a visible halo. That can be avoided using luminosity masks when applied carefully. Apply image often gives you a fool-proof mask with a single click that you would have a very hard time creating by hand.

  4. Just some feedback – I find the tunes playing in the background while you're doing the tutorial to be distracting. Your voice is melodic enough! 🙂

  5. Hi Arron, is that a Pounamu (Māori Greenstone) pendant that you are wearing? If so, Kia ora to you from New Zealand.

  6. I'm slow on the draw here. Once you did the initial "apply image" and went on to the the layer mask explanation, what happened to the "apply image" layer? All I saw was the curves adjustment layer and the background layer. Is this section of instruction independent of what was done up to this point? Thanks. Phlearn is incredible – clear, relevant, and done at the proper pace.

  7. Only half way through this tutorial yet, but wow! What a useful looking technique – thank you Aaron – can’t wait to try it out.

  8. Hi Aaron and the rest of the PHLEARN team,
    This is another great tutorial! Simple but very powerful.
    Lots of greetings from The Netherlands 🇱🇺

  9. cant you make a video showing you masterpieces like in the intro with the music and transitions everything. just longer

  10. How the hell did I not know about Apply Image until now!? Thank you Aaron and PHLEARN, I love PHLEARNING about Photoshop and Lightroom from y’all. But I do have 1 question: are you guys going to open a section dealing with Illustrator, or could you mention sources where we could best learn Illustrator from?

  11. Good video, but I'm never a fan of music playing while people talk. It's hard to hear you and follow the tutorial.

  12. Dude just like what you did in the beginning can we have you singing the whole Phlearn Intro — that would be soooooo much fun!

  13. Duuuu duuuu du duuuu duuuu duuuuuuu duuuuuuu duuu duu duuuuuuu dannn dannn dannnnnn dann daannn dannn dannn dannnn dannnnnnnn DUNHH !!! There you go Aaron, the intro 😂😇

  14. Thanks for share your knowledge. Hope to suscribe to your tutorials soon. I started following you because suggestion of Felix Hernández, and also great photographer i admire. Regards

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