Spot Fix Under Exposed Photos

Yesterday, we went to the soccer field again to have the kids try out their new soccer cleats (coughing, hacking, runny nose and all… I needed to get out of the house).  And, it being New Mexico, it should be no surprise that the sun was out.  I fixed the metering on my camera to compensate (after a few seriously blinding, overexposed pics).
But since the sun was behind my subjects the backgrounds of my pictures were brilliant and colorful.  My children, however, were shadowed and dark.  How to fix this?  I probably could have just moved so that the sun was behind me, but I didn’t want to.
So here is a little tutorial for you.  I hope you like it.  I’m using Photoshop CS5, but any version of photoshop should work the same way.  I don’t know anything about Elements… sorry, hopefully you will be able to glean something from this anyway 🙂  I’m sorry for the oversimplification of this tutorial, I like to have the dots REALLY close together.
Here is a screen shot of my photo right out of the camera, no adjustments at all.  As you can see, most of  Miss Emmy’s face is shadowed so much that you can barely see it!  On the other hand, the grass in the background is much more bright and colorful.  Not much adjustments needed there, if any (click on the image for a more detailed shot).

First, select the background layer of your file in your layers palette (the only layer at this point), and duplicate the layer

See, now you have a new layer.  Do you like my fancy arrow?

Now click the drop down menu in the layers palette (another arrow)

Select “screen”. Now that’s better isn’t it, but her face is still a little on the dark side

So duplicate the new layer

Now her face looks good, but the grass is a little too bright, eh. And the side of her face that does get the sun is looking washed out. So select the brush tool.

Make the brush pretty big (I’ve got it set to 400px) then set the hardness of the brush to ZERO. This gives the brush really fuzzy edges.

Now that you’ve got your brush all set, put a layer mask on the the top layer by clicking the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

Now “paint” with your brush where you don’t want it to be so bright. As you do, you will see that the layer mask on the top layer turns black where you painted. The reason we use layer masks is so that we never actually take away anything from the photo and it’s easy fix if you make a mistake. So if I paint too much and accidentally make Emma’s face darker then all I have to do is use the erase tool and erase within the layer mask (make it white again instead of black).

Oh, and another thing about working with layer masks. See these brackets that surround the mask in the layers palette? If those are surrounding the layer rather than the mask, when you paint you will actually be painting on the layer (ie. putting a green blob on the picture with your brush). But when you use the mask what you are saying is “I like the way this looks, except for in this spot right here, I don’t want it this effect to happen here in this specific spot” Clear as mud?

Ok, back to our scheduled programming.
I like the grass now (it’s subtle, but it’s there), and Emma’s face is much lighter then it was before but still a little dark. So I am going do duplicate the top layer (including the mask) AGAIN (this time, by grabbing my layer and dragging it down to the “new layer” icon at the bottom of the layers palette.

Now for her washed out face. I’m going to use the same process as I did with the grass, but first I am going to make my brush smaller (200 px) so that I can get a more accurate fix on what I am painting (keep the hardness at 0, if you don’t, you will get very clear edges to the paint brush and it these edits will not look natural in any way shape or form.)

I do the same thing on the layer mask below (since I duplicated it and she still looks washed out in that spot).

Then again with an even smaller brush on the other parts of her face where 200 px is too big on both her face and little bits of hair

I keep doing that, with smaller and smaller brushes until it looks right. Then I create a new snapshot. I usually do this throughout the editing process so that I can go back quickly if ever I need to.

As you can see, the first snapshot is the original photo straight out of the camera. The second is the new snapshot I just took. All I have to do is click that image and it will get rid of all of the edits I made after that snapshot was taken. You can take as many of these as you like and it will always take you to that exact spot in the editing process.

Then flatten the image (because .jpgs are always flat and it needs to be flat for this next part).

This last thing isn’t part of the under exposed photo process, but it’s something I always like to do as a finishing touch.
Select your quick selection tool and select the eyes



Now you have a new layer with just her eyes in it (and another pair of eyes underneath).

Now put that new pair of eyes through the “High Pass” filter

That will give my baby a demonic look, you can mess with the settings if you like, but you definitely want a demonic look.

Creepy, huh?

Take that demonic layer and change it to “soft light” from the drop down menu in the layers palette. That will give their eyes a little bit of extra sparkle. You can duplicate the new layer again for more sparkle, but don’t go overboard, you want it to look natural. Now flatten and save.

Now here are the before and after.

I know that there are several other ways to accomplish the same thing, however this is how I have figured out how to do it with the most accurate and realistic look without creating any extra noise in the photo (since I have yet to master the adjustments menu).
Linked up to:

Related Posts

Courtney Ahroon



Courtney Ahroon


I’ll Make Runners Of Them Yet

Courtney Ahroon


Stuffing Envelopes