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How to brighten a photo: top photography tips

April 14

15 min. to read

The main problem with unprofessional photos is insufficient or excessive lighting. Hence there are various shortcomings: unnecessary haze, dull colors, loss of details hidden in the shadows, and (or) overlights.

If you get a bad picture do not despair – a special app will help improve it slightly. Why "slightly"? Because excessive enhancement can ruin the photo. In our today's review, we will tell you how to brighten a dark picture with a photo editor, and how not to over-improve them. You will also learn how to work with pictures during a photo shoot.

Why don't my pictures come out bright enough? 

Photography is the art. Regardless of the type of camera, a photographer must know how to handle light and find the right amount of it for his photos. Ignorance of exposure rules is the most common reason why photos turn out dark. Before you know how to make pictures brighter you need to understand why photos become darker. 

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Photographs turn out dark because of:

  • The wrong combination of shutter speed/aperture value/aperture sensitivity was selected;
  • Exposure metering was done on the wrong spot using the exposure meter;
  • The faulty camera.

Most of the time, photos turn out dark because of the wrong combination of shutter speed and aperture. The values of these parameters should be dictated by lighting conditions, not by which of them are needed to capture a particular subject. Sure, it is better to shoot a soccer game at 1/1000 shutter speed and fast aperture, but they don't work at all for nighttime photography. The faster shutter speed gets less light into the camera and the more the aperture is closed, the less light it lets in. So when you use manually selecting settings, you should always check them with an exposure meter. The following is another important point about how to lighten pictures.

Metering is the way the exposure meter reads light information. Simply put, when you half-press the shutter button, the camera detects the light in the scene and adjusts the settings. Any modern camera has an exposure meter.

Most cameras measure light in the center of the frame. Thus, if there is an object in the center of the frame that is an order of magnitude lighter than the rest of the scene, the photos will appear dark. You can select the desired metering method in the camera menu. All DSLRs have a metering option. Here are a few ways how to brighten pictures.

How to brighten a dark picture during the shooting phase?

Let's learn how to brighten images without using apps! When taking pictures, it's important to keep an eye on the light and what's most important – on the picture. If you are shooting a subject against a brightly lit background (such as a sunset sky) and you want the subject to be well-lit, you need to point the lens on it, press the shutter button halfway and the camera will measure the shot against the figure.  

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The basic mistake here is that in the center of the frame. There may be the sky, which is much brighter than the subject, and the camera will measure the parameters by the sky. Then the subject will be dark. Therefore if the camera has no options for exposure metering always point the lens to the desired object before taking the picture so it is in the center of the frame (as it was said above the center of the frame is where the camera measures the light parameters), measure the exposure on it then make the frame as you want it and press the shutter button. Here are a few tips that will help you find the answer.

How to brighten photos: take advantage of natural light

When trying to take a photo with natural light, the first thing to look for is the right time of day. When it comes to finding the best lighting for a photo shoot, the first thing that comes to mind is timing. It applies to all kinds of photography: landscape, portrait, and travel. Photographers who make pictures outdoors use the regime time period for their own purposes.

When does mode time happen? It is tied to two key points: when the sun rises and when it sets. And this is very important in the question of how to make a dark picture lighter with natural light.

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Daytime is a period that includes one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. And vice versa: one hour before sunset and one hour after sunrise. Of course, after one hour after sunrise, no one will abruptly turn off the good light. Just gradually the advantageous lighting will come to naught. The time frame given above is indicative, and very much depends on the area, the time of year, and the weather, as well as on your requirements for lighting. However, this is not the only way how to make a photo brighter.

The advantages of a wide-angle lens

The large sensor and wide-angle lens will give low digital noise and high image quality. The wide dynamic range will show all the details in the picture both in the bright sky and in the dark areas of the ground. Manual settings will help to make the shot of the desired brightness. The automation sometimes makes mistakes in the setting of exposure parameters and the white balance at the time. 

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Based on these requirements, a DSLR would be an excellent choice. A beginner photographer can use a kit lens (from the kit to the camera), it is quite suitable for such photos. But for landscape photography, its angle of view may not be enough. Next, we will tell you another trick on how to fix a picture that is too dark at the shooting stage.

Benefits of the RAW format

An important step is to adjust the white balance during shooting to ensure good color reproduction directly from the camera. The advantage of the RAW format is that you can adjust the white balance after the shooting and during processing. When shooting in JPEG, the white balance is also adjusted immediately after the shooting, not during, when the processor processes the raw data. But you will not be able to correct the white balance of such a picture later. Can't figure out how to brighten dark photos? Save your photos in RAW format and avoid a lot of problems.

How do I correct the lack of brightness in the photo editor?

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First, you need to remove the unwanted haze from the photo. This will raise the contrast and color saturation a bit. Next, you will learn how to lighten a photo with a Photoshop graphics editor:

  • Create a new adjustment layer called "Levels";
  • In the layer settings, pull the outermost sliders to the center. Look carefully at the balance of highlights and shadows.
  • The haze on the photo is gone. Create a copy (print) of all the layers with the keys CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E, and go to detail enhancement. The following actions will be aimed at improving the detail of the photo.
  • Create a copy of the top layer (CTRL+J) and go to the "Filter" menu. We need the "Color Contrast" filter from the "Other" section;
  • Adjust the filter so that the fine details of the car and the background are visible, but not the color. When we're done, we click OK;
  • As there is a limit to the radius reduction, the colors on the layer with the filter may not be completely removed. To be sure, you can make this layer colorless by pressing CTRL+SHIFT+U;
  • Change the blending mode for the Color Contrast layer to "Overlap" or "Bright Light" depending on how sharp we want the picture to be;
  • We create one more merged copy of the layers (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E); You should know that when sharpening, not only the "useful" parts of the image become sharp, but also the "harmful" noises. To avoid this, let's remove them. We go to the "Filter - Noise" menu and move to the "Noise Reduction" item;
  • The main thing is not to overdo it. The fine details of the image should not disappear together with the noise;
  • We create a copy of the layer from which we've removed the noise, and apply the "Color Contrast" filter again. This time we set the radius so that the colors become visible;
  • You don't need to bleach this layer, change the blending mode to "Color" and adjust the opacity.

After you have done all these manipulations, you will see how much your photos have changed. Now you know how to edit dark photos and we can move on to the next section.

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How to brighten dark pictures with Luminar Neo

You can brighten a photo with a huge number of apps, but one of the best on their list is Luminar Neo! Choose a Dramatic tool and find two sliders: Brightness and Saturation. This is a traditional feature in Luminar Neo that helps you adjust the brightness level. 

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There is also the Supercontrast tool. There is also the great Relight AI tool that works automatically to relight your image. It's easy to use and even a beginner can get into it. Luminar Neo tools are the simplest answer to how to brighten up a picture!


What tool is used to brighten photos?

You can use the color correction filters. You can find them in many editors, for example, Photoshop. The result will most often be worse than the manual settings, but if you are not ready to bother with learning how to the bridging a picture and spent hours editing photos, this is your choice. I advise using Luminar Neo. This way of how to make a dark photo lighter is best suited for those who are new to photo editors and pros. In addition, it provides excellent results.

How can I make a photo brighter and white?

I recommend using natural light. The best option is late morning. You can also use apps like Luminar Neo, Photoshop, or Lightroom to edit photos.

How do I make my pictures bright and airy?

Each camera has its own color reproduction. You need to select the appropriate profile in order to take into account the specifics of your camera. Set it up manually and don't forget the photo editors.

How can I make my pictures more attractive?

I recommend using Luminar Neo. It can not only change the brightness of the picture. Thanks to AI tools, this application will make the image more attractive. It is the best way how to brighten a photo without Photoshop.

How to Brighten a Dark Picture: Photography Tips For Edit Photos | Skylum How-to(2)

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Written by

Yehor Mishchenko

Freelance photographer

Yehor Mishchenko is a freelance photographer who specializes in artwork. His sources of inspiration are books by Howard Lovecraft and paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, so he is well-versed in surrealistic photography. He likes to show objects in an unfamiliar way and has excelled at it. Yegor also enjoys film photography and movies from the 1990s, from which he draws inspiration. He became interested in photography at university and now successfully combines his love for it with his main profession.

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How to Brighten a Dark Picture: Photography Tips For Edit Photos | Skylum How-to(14)