One mistake that everyone makes eventually is underexposing an otherwise great photo. But that doesn’t mean it’s ruined. You can use Photoshop or other image editing apps to correct the brightness and lack of contrast. Some apps limit your adjustments to Brightness and Contrast, while more advanced applications, like Photoshop, allow you to make sophisticated changes, like Levels and Curves.
Samsung GALAXY Camera | 1/800s | F 2.9 | 28mm | ISO100
A fine photo for showing how these adjustments work
1. Brightness and Contrast
The image below illustrates how adjustments to Brightness and Contrast affect a photo.
Adjusting Brightness up (area 1) makes all of the pixels, well, brighter – in other words, closer to white – while adjusting it down (area 2) makes all of them darker and closer to black. In the first case, the sky is totally washed out. In the second, day has turned to night, and the red in the flower is barely perceptible.
Adjusting Contrast changes how light colors look next to dark colors. Increasing Contrast (area 3) makes light colors lighter and dark colors darker. See how dark the shadows have become? Decreasing Contrast (area 4) brings all of the colors closer together. Everything just kind of runs together.
A more advanced tool for correcting problems like underexposure is Levels (Ctrl+L or Cmd+L in Photoshop). Levels can lighten up an underexposed photo and add contrast at the same time. Levels will show you the Input Levels in graphic form representing all of the colors in the photo, from black at 0 to white at 255.
In the original picture, the brightest parts are the white crystals and the sky, but nothing is really bright, bright white, as can be seen on the right far of the Levels graph, which is zero and flat. Therefore, you can adjust the maximum white level down to 216 without losing any distinction between colors. Just click OK and check the results.
Curves (Ctrl+M or Cmd+M in Photoshop) is yet another advanced tool for correcting lifeless photos. Curves allows you to adjust brightness and contrast across all colors and independently.
The menu displays a graph with a diagonal line. The bottom of the line represents black. Moving up along the line takes you through the shadows, then the mid-tones, then the highlights, and finally to white, at the top.
To adjust your photo, click on the lower part of the line (the shadows) and drag it slightly downward. This will make the darker colors darker. Now click on the upper part of the line (the highlights) and drag it upward. This will make the bright colors brighter. Notice that the mid-tones remain untouched. The results are brilliant.
You can use Brightness, Contrast, Levels, and Curves in any combination to turn even the most underexposed picture into one to be proud of.
Next time, we will share more practical post-processing tips to bring the best out of your photos.