We’ve all taken photos that look too dark or too light. This is often because of the lighting in the scene. For example, if the light is behind your subject, the subject’s face is likely to be too dark. The downside isn’t just that a photo looks darker or lighter than you’d like it to be; an incorrectly exposed photo may not show the details that made you want to take the photo in the first place. But don’t worry; Photoshop can help you correct exposure problems after the shoot.
Exposure correction workflows
There are multiple tools and workflows in Photoshop to help you lighten or darken a photo. If you’re a beginner, start with a simple Brightness/Contrast adjustment. As you become more comfortable in Photoshop, try a Curves or Levels adjustment for more control. Remember to apply corrections with an adjustment layer, rather than a direct adjustment, in order to protect your original photo.
Adjust exposure in just part of a photo
If you want to correct the exposure of only part of a photo, use the layer mask that comes with a Brightness/Contrast, Levels, or Curves adjustment layer. Adding black to an adjustment layer mask hides the adjustment from the corresponding part of a photo. If you change your mind, add white to the layer mask to bring the adjustment back into view.
One way to work with an adjustment layer mask is to make a selection before you create the adjustment layer. When you create an adjustment layer with a selection active, black is automatically added to the adjustment layer mask and only part of your image will be affected by the adjustment.
Dodge and burn
Another way to improve exposure in part of a photo is by dodging and burning. Dodging lightens; burning darkens. Photoshop has dedicated Dodge and Burn tools, which you can use to zero in on anything that needs lightening or darkening. Try using them to brighten the eyes in a portrait or create a darker vignette at the edges of a photo. As you develop more Photoshop skills, try dodging and burning nondestructively on a separate layer created with a special blend mode.