Correcting Underexposed Portraits

“I’m always looking for perfection. Every photographer, in one way or another, if he’s serious, is. He ain’t ever going to get it. But hope springs eternal.”—Phil Stern

under1Here in the real world, everybody makes mistakes and sometimes when shooting, I loose track of my camera settings, don’t keep up with changing lighting conditions and forget to chimp. That combination of errors results, more often than not, in an underexposed image. Here’s a simple technique to fix that problem using Photoshop.

One technique some people use in this situation is the Levels (Image >Adjustments> Levels) command: They slide the right hand triangle to the left to increase exposure but that also increases contrast at the same time. Another method is to use Curves (Image >Adjustments> Curves) to increase overall exposure.  I prefer to use Photoshop’s Layers command. Here’s how I do it:


Create a duplicate layer using the Layer > Duplicate Layer command. You can name it or not, then select “Screen” from the Layer’s palette’s Blending Mode menu. If you’re lucky the underexposure will be instantly corrected but you may have to modulate the effect by using the Layer’s palette’s Opacity slider to change the overall exposure of that duplicate layer. For the image below, I used 90% for the corrected image. When it looks the way you want use Flatten (Layers > Flatten) create a single layer file.

under3The final image has its under-exposure corrected and is lightly retouched. As with any under-exposed image you can expect to find some level of digital noise—depending on how badly under-exposed the image file is—and that’s when I use Dfine to minimize the noise.

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Author: Joe Farace

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