How to Fix Overexposed Photos

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After a long day of shooting, you go back home and upload the photos to your desktop. However, you learn they’re pretty overexposed, and you need to fix them before uploading and printing. We’re giving a step-by-step guide on how to fix overexposed photos and save your work.

How to Fix Overexposed Photos

To fix overexposed images, you can adjust Global Adjustment Sliders, apply Graduated Filters, and use Brush Adjustment in Lightroom. Another option is to work on layers in Adobe Photoshop Elements. It’s also essential that you check the Histogram to see where you should apply the necessary corrections.

Photo with an overexposed sky

It can be frustrating to think you snapped the perfect shot with your high-end camera, only to see that white glow ruining a photo. While it can be disheartening, there are different ways to salvage blown-out images.

Check the Histogram

The first step in fixing overexposure in photos is to check Lightroom’s Histogram in the Lightroom Develop Module. This feature enables you to locate an image’s overexposed and underexposed parts.

It’s a graph that illustrates the distribution of highlights, shadows, and mid-tones. The vertical axis shows the number of pixels for each tonal value, whereas the horizontal axis refers to each tone’s frequency or tonal spectrum from dark to bright.

Press the J button on the keyboard to activate the clipping indicators. This tool will help identify areas of the photo that are too light or dark. If the graph is higher on the right side, this means there are many bright pixels in your shot.

Adjust Global Adjustment Sliders

Among the easier ways to post-process overexposed images in Lightroom is to tweak the settings using Global Adjustment Sliders. You can see this in the Basic Panel in the Develop Module.

Exposure

Using the Exposure slider is an excellent place to start because this tool modifies an image’s overall brightness. Suppose your entire landscape picture is overexposed. Moving the slider to the left can be a quick fix.

  1. Select the image you need to edit. You will see the Exposure slider has a value of 0.00.
  2. Move it to the left to lower the exposure. As you slide to the left, the value will decrease until it shows a negative value. For instance, -0.30.
  3. There’s no specific number you need to set the slider to since this depends on the outcome you want on the photo. Keep sliding to the left until you recover details.

The challenge of using the Exposure slider is that since the tool controls the brightness of the whole photo, the dark parts of the picture will also get darker. For this reason, you need to work with the other sliders.

Man editing an image in his laptop

Highlights and Whites

One of the best things about using the Highlights slider is that it only affects the bright portions of the image. This is why it goes hand-in-hand with the Whites slider because this tool adjusts the mid-tones.

  1. Drag the Highlights slider to the left to make the brighter areas less bright. This should also help recover lost details.
  2. Move the Whites slider to the left to decrease the mid tones brightness. You will only slide to the right to increase the brightness of the mid-tones.

Shadows and Blacks

The Shadows adjustment is another way to fix overexposure in photos. This lets you recover portions that may have gotten too dark after using the Exposure, Highlights, and Whites sliders. Meanwhile, the Blacks slider affects the darkest tones of a picture.

Both sliders can affect all sections of a photo to a certain degree. Moving one of them to the left can make the darks even darker to increase contrast. On the other hand, moving them to the right can make the darks lighter and decrease contrast.

This is why when dealing with overexposure, drag the Shadows slider to the right first to restore details. After that, move the Blacks slider to the left to reclaim shadow strength.

Contrast

There can be instances where a picture can still look dull or flat even after using Exposure, Highlights, Whites, Shadows, and Blacks sliders. To further fix the exposure, drag the Contrast slider to the right until the image regains the crispness and contrast you want.

Apply a Linear Graduated Filter for Targeted Adjustments

Having an overexposed sky is one of the common problems in landscape photography. Targeted adjustments enable you to choose which brightness value to target using the modifications you apply.

Photo with an overexposed sky

For example, the idea is to add a darkness gradient to an image’s section to bring out details of an overexposed sky.

  1. Head to Lightroom’s Develop Module, then the Masking icon. Click on the Linear Graduated Filter icon under the Histogram or press the M button on the keyboard.
  2. Press and hold the left mouse button while you drag the cursor across the image to apply the filter.
  3. Depending on the necessary angle, you can apply the gradient from top to bottom or left to right. For instance, drag down from the sky to the horizon to blend the filter.
  4. Release the mouse button once you have the path.
  5. Tweak the other settings like Exposure and Highlights as you see fit.

Apply a Radial Graduated Filter

Using the Radial Graduated Filter is another way of making localized adjustments on overexposed images. This tool operates the same as a photographer’s graduated neutral density filter. With a Graduated Filter, you can add a darkness gradient to a given section of your photograph to remove the overexposure.

  1. Go to the Develop Module, then the Masking icon. Click on the gray rectangle icon on the top to reveal controls for the Radial Graduated Filter.
  2. Click on the Radial Graduated Filter icon under the Histogram or press the Shift + M buttons on the keyboard.
  3. Click and drag across the section of the image where you want to apply the Radial Graduated Filter.
  4. Release the mouse button, then adjust the settings in the sidebar.

Use the Lightroom Brush Adjustment Tool

The Brush Adjustment is a reliable tool when dealing with overexposed faces. This is also a great method to fix small blown-out details.

  1. Turn on Auto Mask to ensure the adjustments only apply to your selected area.
  2. Press the O button to show the mask overlay.
  3. Paint over the overexposed face. Make sure to keep the little plus sign in the center of the brush.
  4. Adjust the Exposure, Highlights, Whites, Shadows, and Blacks values in the area where you applied the brush tool.
  5. You can also set the Feather value to at least 60. Doing so will form a seamless transition between the brushed section and surrounding pixels.

Use Layers in Photoshop Elements

Using Photoshop Elements is a good alternative to save blown-out images and then add graphical elements afterward.

Woman fixing an overexposed photo in her laptop
  1. After launching the image in Photo Editor, select the Adjustments from the Action Bar.
  2. Click on the Exposure option.
  3. Elements will display nine thumbnails of the image with varying exposure levels. Pick your preferred effect.
  4. From the Layers panel, you’ll see the picture is sitting on the Background layer.
  5. Use the Levels adjustment layer from the drop-down menu to darken the blown-out details.
  6. Move the cursor to the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon below the Layers panel.
  7. Change the Blend Mode Option from Normal to Multiply to darken the photo.
  8. You should see the image getting darker with more visible details in the highlights. Likewise, the colors will become richer and more saturated.
  9. If you think the outcome is darker than expected, lower the Opacity value from 100% to 60% to adjust it.

What Is Overexposure in Photography?

In photography, overexposure is when excessive light hits the camera sensor, making the picture brighter than expected. This limits the details in an image, preventing it from having distinguishable highlights and contrasts.

Many years ago, photographers used a chemical process between celluloid and light to achieve exposure. Today, exposure is attained through light hitting the camera sensor. Thus, overexposure happens when too much light is registered.

Related Questions

Is It Better to Shoot Overexposed or Underexposed?

It is better to shoot slightly underexposed instead of overexposed, so it would be easier to post-process. However, you must be careful with this because too much underexposure can cause blacks to become darker.

How Can I Avoid Taking Overexposed Photos?

To avoid having overexposed images, the first thing you should do is to set the correct camera exposure settings. This means you need to apply the proper exposure triangle, which covers aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. You must also consider the flash-subject distance when using an external flash.

Can Shooting in RAW Fix Overexposure in Photos?

Shooting in RAW can help you fix overexposed pictures since this file type records more data from the sensor. This allows you to have more details to work on as you use Global Adjustment sliders, apply a Graduated Filter, or use the Brush Adjustment tool.

Conclusion

The best way to avoid overexposed pictures is to shoot using the proper camera exposure settings in the first place. However, it’s possible you would still experience shooting photos with blown-out details. When this happens, you can use Lightroom sliders, filters, and brushes, as well as Photoshop layers, to fix overexposure.