Today I want to show you how easy it can be to grab an image that you think is underexposed and turn it into something that you’re happy with. I’m going to use an image that I took a couple years back on a trip down to Merimbula. It was at sunrise, f/9, 73 seconds at ISO 64 and I had the Lee Big Stopper on so 10 stops of light.
When I open up this photo in Lightroom and take a look at the histogram, you can see that it’s all bunched up to the left and seeing this you may think that you’re unable to fix your image but if you click on the arrow on the top left hand side you can actually see where photo is so dark that you’ve lost the information and in this case, the areas are actually only a small part of the image which you can even end up cropping out later.
Is it really lost?
If we increase the exposure up by 5 stops, you can see only a little bit of red clipping above the rock. This shows how far you can push an exposure without it being overexposed. It looks terrible like this but this is just to show that it is quite easy to save a dark image.
A Quick and Dirty Fix
I’m gonna show you a few quick and easy adjustments you can make to turn a seemingly unsaveable image into something more acceptable to share with the world.
The first thing I am going to do is fix the exposure. For this image I am going to increase the exposure value by 2.6 stops.
Now if you have a look at the image, the color is quite blue. This is because the auto-white balance has gotten really confused with the Lee Big Stopper on, so next I’m going to warm it up a bit by increasing the temperature value. In addition, I’m going to increase contrast by around 24 and then decrease the highlights all the way down and increase the shadow value all the way up. If we take a look now, the image is already starting to look a lot better.
Next I’m going to hold down the shift button and double-click whites and then double-click blacks, letting it auto adjust. After that I increase the clarity value by about 40 points and then do the same thing with vibrance, increasing the value by about 45. Once that starts looking good I’m going to crop the image a bit to cut out some of the more boring parts.
At this point it’s looking pretty good and it’s time to do some local adjustments. I’m going to grab my brush, increase the clarity to 100, and use the brush over the rocks and foreground of the image to make things really stand out. Next we’ll grab a new adjustment brush, get rid of the clarity values, and this time we are going to set the saturation to 100. Then we’ll take the brush and bring it across the sky to increase it’s colour. At this point it’s still a bit too blue so I’ll increase the temperature just a bit more.
Alright, now that’s looking even better! I want to lighten up the top right hand corner so I’m gonna grab a gradient filter, get rid of the saturation value on it and increase the exposure on it until that corner is lighter but still looking natural. The next thing I like to do is hold down the shift key which keeps your neutral density filter nice and square, make sure there isn’t any saturation values on it and I’m gonna drop the exposure on it just a little bit, about .39, and then go and do the same thing to the bottom of the image. This creates almost like a vignette but only top and bottom.
So now let’s take a look at our before and after.
Taking a look side by side we can see how much of a difference we’ve made in such a short amount of time. This tutorial was more to show what a little bit of post processing can do to a dark image that you might otherwise not even attempt to fix. There are of course a lot more we can do to the image like lens correction and spending a bit more time adjusting the values to suit your image.
For a little more info, check out the video in the post to watch as I use the steps outlined in this post to fix my image.
If you have any further tips on how you fix your dark images, I would love to hear from you in the comments below!