How to Fix an Underexposed Photo in Lightroom

In this topic I will be discussing about how to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom quickly. If you are not acquainted with Lightroom please read my previous article Download and Install Adobe Lightroom 5 in Windows 8.1 and Getting Started with Lightroom 5.

Download RAW Photo

In certain cases we may forget to check the exposure meter to see if our photo is properly exposed. This may result in an underexposed or very overexposed photo. This happens mostly, when we click a photo in a hurry. If the loss is not severe and if you have clicked the photo in RAW format, it can be fixed very quickly using Lightroom.

Video Demo

Always Shoot in RAW

Now, you may think “why should I click a photo in RAW format which consumes a lot of space?”. Yes, it costs around 17-35 MB of space per photo but it preserves all the details in the photo file. RAW is not a compressed file format like JPEG or any other format. RAW format comes out of the camera untouched. It helps you in retouching the photo later on. JPEG costs less space but it discards pointless data.

Remember RAW isn’t an actual file extension. There are no *.raw files. Different manufacturers use different file extensions. Nikon uses .NEF, Canon uses .CR2, FujiFilm has .RAF and Adobe has the widely popular .DNG format. DNG is universal file format and can store any other file format inside it.

Fix an Underexposed photo in Lightroom

Today I will show you how to adjust exposure details to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom. Here I am taking a photo with fairly green background which was clicked on a sunny day and was intentionally underexposed. Although I intent to show you the basic exposure adjustment in Lightroom but I will show you how to adjust using some other tools to make the photo look much better.

How to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom - PhotoReform

Original Underexposed Photo
How to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom – PhotoReform

ExIF Data:
1/400 sec, f/7.1, ISO 100
Format : CR2 ( Canon RAW file format )

Understanding Histogram

First take a look at the histogram area on top right corner. A histogram tells you whether a photo has been well exposed or not. Here is an example of underexposed photo and an overexposed photo.

How to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom

Understanding Histogram – PhotoReform


How to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom

Understanding Histogram – PhotoReform

Generally a peak on the left hand side of the spectrum and nothing much in the remaining area represents an underexposed photo. Similarly a peak on the right hand side of the spectrum and nothing much in the remaining area represents an overexposed photo. But different subject and photographic style may result different histogram value.

There is no such thing as the “perfect” histogram. For example taking a silhouette shot may give a histogram with peaks at both the ends of the spectrum and less in the middle of the graph. Taking a shot at snowy location will obviously produce a histogram with significant peaks on the right hand side.

You must know what you are photographing before analyzing the histogram. Here is the histogram of our photo. This photo was taken in perfect sunlight with moderately green background. You can see the peaks on the left hand side which clearly explains that this is an underexposed photo under this condition.

How to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom - PhotoReform

Histogram – PhotoReform

How to Fix It?

Step 1 : Adjusting the Exposure Value

Under ” Basic Panel ” on right hand side increase the Exposure to +2.50. If you are getting any difficulty finding the Basic Panel press ” Ctrl+1 ” or go to Window -> Panels -> Basic.

Increasing the exposure value to this extent will add some noise in the photo. So we will reduce noise by increasing Luminance under ” Noise Reduction ” section in ” Details Panel “. To open Details panel press ” Ctrl+5 ” or go to Window -> Panels -> Details. Now change the Luminance value to +65.

How to Fix an Underexposed photo in Lightroom

How to Fix an Underexposed photo in Lightroom – PhotoReform

Step 2 : Sharpen the Photo

Again increase in Luminance reduces sharpness in a photo. Change the Sharpness amount under ” Sharpening section ” in Details panel. Increase Amount to +55.

Step 3 : Improving Clarity and Contrast
Reduce the Contrast value to -15 and Clarity to +24. Do not overuse clarity.

Step 4 : Retouching Highlight
Since we have increased the exposure to +2.50, it will increase the brightness in the highlighted area of the photo. To make it realistic, reduce the Highlight to -30.

Final Result
Here is our before and after comparison of the photo –

How to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom - PhotoReform

How to fix an underexposed photo in Lightroom – PhotoReform

Get your RAW File Completely Free!!!

Here is the RAW file of the photo which has been used in this article completely free of cost ( Non commercial, personal use only ). All you have to do is just import it to Lightroom and try to follow all the steps mentioned here and play with it. See how it looks in the end. Happy retouching!!

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Buddha Saikia

PhotoReform.com is a blog maintained by Buddha Saikia. He is a photography enthusiast and Android Developer based in Guwahati, Assam. To follow his work or connect, visit the social links.

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About Buddha Saikia

PhotoReform.com is a blog maintained by Buddha Saikia. He is a photography enthusiast and Android Developer based in Guwahati, Assam. To follow his work or connect, visit the social links.
  • Assignment Done

    Nice article! Very helpful for beginner like me 🙂 Thanks

    • Thank you very much! Get in touch for future updates. All the best.

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