A confession: I’ve made every photo mistake in the book. But, hey, I’ve been at this game for 331?3 years. If 331?3 doesn’t mean anything to you, then you’re much younger than I am! Here, I’ll show you techniques for fixing two common mistakes: over- and underexposed images. You can use these techniques in Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements, and similar techniques in most photo software. For RAW files, use these principles in Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom or Aperture. It’s always best to shoot RAW files and work in a RAW-processing program.
Too Bad It’s Too Dark
This is the original of the image that opens this column, taken during a workshop I was leading for the LIGHT Photographic Workshops in Los Osos, Calif. I goofed and underexposed the photo. My excuse: I was having too much fun helping the students get great shots of this horse and rider at sunset. My mistake: I forgot to reset the exposure compensation on my camera back to 0 from a previous shoot, where I had the exposure compensation set to -2.
Not only was the picture too dark, but it lacked some contrast and color. My Quick Fix was lightning fast! I adjusted the Levels, Brightness and Saturation. In the Levels panel, I moved the highlight slider (triangle on the right) to the left to just inside the histogram “mountain range.” In the Brightness/Contrast panel, I boosted the contrast to 44. In the Hue/Saturation panel, I boosted the saturation to +30. These quick adjustments resulted in a much improved image.
Saving A Washed-Out Shot
Here’s a dramatic image of a cowboy and his horse silhouetted against a colorful after-sunset background. Nice shot? No—it’s a nice image created in the digital darkroom with a little help from Levels.
The histogram in the Levels Adjustment panel is actually a good histogram for a silhouette: deep shadows, strong highlights and no midtones. Still, the sky was way too bright and lacked color. By simply moving the shadow slider (triangle on the left) to the right to a position just inside the right “mountain range,” I darkened the sky, increased the color and boosted the contrast.
Try this technique on your lackluster sky photos. You’ll be amazed at what it can do. Just keep in mind that you do need a bit of color in the sky.
Rick Sammon is the author of 35 books on photography, digital imaging and nature. Visit with Rick at www.ricksammon.com.