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The Big Fixx: digital-camera image problems > Fixing Underexposed Photos

Fixing Underexposed Photos

This is a tonal correction for people who don’t like making tonal corrections (over 60 million Americans suffer from the paralyzing fear of MTC [Making Tonal Corrections]). Since this technique requires no knowledge of Levels or Curves, it’s very popular, and even though it’s incredibly simple to perform, it does a pretty incredible job of fixing underexposed photos.

Step One.
Open an underexposed photo. The photo shown here was taken with a point-and-shoot digital camera, inside a 1953 DeHaviland Seaplane without a flash. It could’ve used either a fill flash or a better exposure setting, and that’s why it’s so dark.


Step Two.
Press Command-J (PC: Control-J) to duplicate your Background layer (this duplicate will be named Layer 1 by default). On this new layer, change the Blend Mode in the Layers palette from Normal to Screen to lighten the entire photo.

Step Three.
If the photo still isn’t properly exposed, just press Command-J (PC: Control-J) and duplicate this Screen layer until the exposure looks about right (this may take a few layers, but don’t be shy about it—keep copying layers until it looks right).

Step Four.
There’s a good chance that, at some point, your photo will still look a bit underexposed, so you’ll duplicate the layer again, but now it looks overexposed. What you need is “half a layer.” Half as much lightening. Here’s what to do: Lower the Opacity of your top layer to “dial in” the perfect amount of light, giving you something between the full intensity of the layer (at 100%) and no layer at all (at 0%). For half the intensity, try 50% (did I really even have to say that last line? Didn’t think so). Once the photo looks properly exposed, choose Flatten Image from the Layers palette’s pop-down menu.

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