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Photoshop Friday! Recovering detail in an overexposed photo

This quick tip is from a question I received this week: what can you do to fix an overexposed/washed-out photo? 

And it just so happens that I have a washed-out photo right here, straight out of the camera when I wasn’t paying attention to my exposure:

Oh yes. I take plenty of crappy photos, and I’m not afraid to admit it. :D

This is our awesome new firepit, and this pic is Jared’s proud feet sitting proudly next to the fire which HE built (he insists that there’s something necessary, something deeply and primally human about building fires. It gets him back to his caveman roots, I think.

We’re going to fix up this pic so it looks like-a-this:

Oh yes. Detail, color, vibrancy. It’s stil not totally perfect, but it is a LOT better.

The funny thing about this technique is that it will accomplish for us and this OVEREXPOSED picture almost the same thing we did in our Photo Shazam technique from a couple of weeks ago. It’s all about the blending modes. Mysterious and deep. I’ll wait while you go put on your wizard hat.

Shall we?

Recovering Detail in an Overexposed Photo

1. Open your own overexposed photo. I know you have one.

2. Right-click on the Background layer in the Layers palette and choose Duplicate Layer from the flyout menu. 

3. At the top of the Layers palette, you’ll see a dropdown box that says “Normal”. This is the blending modes dropdown box, cleverly disguised as something unimportant and not worth labeling. Drop this box down and select Multiply.

We should get something like this:

Click for larger

4. It’s better, but not quite there yet. Let’s try that again. Right-click on the blended layer and choose Duplicate Layer from the flyout menu again.

5. Depending on your photo, you might need to reduce the opacity of the 2nd Multiply layer. You’ll do that with the slider there at the top of the Layers palette.

After my 2nd layer, my pic looks like this:

Click for larger

Better, right? But not great. Here’s why.

Multiply boosts contrast by basically darkening everything in the photo - the official description of the Multiply blending mode from the Photoshop user guide is that Multiply “looks at the color information in each channel and multiplies the base color by the blend color.” The upshot is that darker colors get darker faster than lighter colors do. So black turns WAY black before light brown turns the right shade of brown. So you’ll notice that the dark parts of our photo have gotten really clogged up with shadow.

There are a couple of ways this can be fixed. Here’s an easy one that still leaves you with some control:

6. At the top of the Layers palette (or the bottom of the Layers palette if you’re using CS3) is a little circular button that is half black and half white. This is the Adjustment Layers button. Click on it, and choose Brightness/Contrast from the list.

Click for Larger

7. In the Brightness/Contrast dialog box, slide the Contrast slider toward the left to reduce the contrast in the photo. Normally when you use this slider by itself, if you slide Contrast all the way to the left, you’ll end up with a washed-out mess. But because you have two Multiply layers above your photo, you won’t be losing any of that nice dark color, just bringing back some detail in the shadows. I ended up sliding the Contrast slider all the way to the left in this picture, and it opened up the shadows nicely. 

Click for larger

After these quick adjustments, here’s the pic I ended up with:

This fast fix was brought to you today by the letters J and S and by the number 3. I hope you have a super, Phabulous Photoshop Phriday and a great weekend!

A Windows Girl Goes Mac: Episode 1

Introducing the Newest Member of the Sprague Lab!

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