Yes, we should all try to get the exposure right for every single photo we take. But hey, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Maybe you’re in a hurry or you just weren’t ready for the moment when it happened. What can you do? Well, if you have Photoshop, you can still try to save your image if it’s underexposed. In the featured video tutorial below, Howard Pinsky shows you how it works if you have a RAW image and what you can do if you only have a JPG.
What to do if you have a RAW image?
This is the ideal case where you have plenty of information in those underexposed areas, even if they are awfully dark upon first inspection. Howard shows you how to use Adobe Camera RAW to raise the exposure in the shadow areas without affecting the highlights. And that’s the key, because simply raising the overall Exposure (maybe your first instinct) will blow out the highlights in most cases. So use the Shadows slider to increase the exposure in the shadow areas. And if you need to, use the Highlights slider to lower the exposure for example in the sky to bring back some blown-out details there too.
Use the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation sliders to bring back some of the punch and the colors that get lost in this process.
Finally, whenever you are raising the exposure in really dark areas, chances are that you will get some noise here. Use the controls in the Details tab of Camera Raw to apply some noise reduction.
What if you have a JPG image?
In Photoshop CC, you can simply use the new Camera RAW Filter to apply similar settings as for the RAW image. If you have an earlier version of Photoshop, you can use the Shadows / Highlights adjustment to work on those two areas individually. This is not as powerful as the adjustments you can apply in Camera RAW, but it does allow you to save your image if it’s not too badly underexposed.
Again, in order to fix the grayish look of the colors after applying the adjustment, you need to add some color back into the image. Use a Vibrance adjustment layer to do this. Additionally, Brightness/Contrast and Curves adjustment layers will help you bring back some of the contrast to your image.
Watch the full video to get all the details of this process.