Overexposed Photos: How to Fix Them

January 24

15 min. to read

Have you spent a lot of time and effort on an image, but your pictures ended up overexposed? Today we're going to talk about how to save the situation and avoid this in the future.

So, you've taken a picture, but some parts of the image are indistinguishable and resemble white spots? Well, you've encountered a very common problem — over exposed photos. Even though it's frustrating, it's not hopeless. Several effective ways can help you save your pictures. Today we will talk about how you can avoid this problem when shooting, what nuances you need to consider, as well as how post-processing of images can help you to improve the results. Let's get started!

Let's Start with The Definition

To explain as simply as possible, an over exposed image is one that looks too bright and washed out. This is due to insufficient contrast in the shadows and mid-tones of the photo. Also, because of the glare, it is often difficult to distinguish some details in the image. 

What is The Reason for This Problem?

In order to understand how to fix overexposed photos, we first need to remember the meaning of the term exposure. This is the amount of light that reaches the camera's sensor and therefore determines the level of darkness or brightness a photo will have. This can be controlled by the three corners of the exposure triangle:

  • ISO — changes the sensitivity of the camera's sensor;
  • Aperture size — adjusts the amount of light that gets in (i.e., the amount you need in each situation);
  • Shutter speed — the ability to control the amount of time the sensor will be exposed to light.

For getting a properly exposed image, you have to balance the exposure variables listed above.

What is a Histogram and How to Use It Properly

To make a high-quality picture and to learn how to fix overexposed photos, the professional needs to assess the correctness of color rendition and exposure. It is not always possible to evaluate in a preview whether a photo has underexposed or overexposed areas. Especially if external factors interfere, such as the bright sun or the quality of the display, which does not always render colors and light well. The histogram function can help you quickly assess the brightness of the frame.

The histogram is a graph, a diagram of the distribution of pixels in the image with different brightness. By working with it, you can reduce the number of overexposed pictures to a minimum. To better understand its purpose, we can divide it into three equal parts:

  • The left part means shadows;
  • The right is light;
  • The middle is halftones.

So if the histogram is a high peak on the left side, then the photo is underexposed. It is almost all black or has too many dark areas and lacks light tones. On the contrary, when it shows a peak on the right side, it indicates that the image is overexposed. In such a picture, everything looks very bright and there are almost no halftones and shadows.

Why is Shooting in RAW The Best Choice?

If over exposed pictures are shot in RAW, you have a much better chance of saving them. So first, let's take a look at what RAW is and why it's needed. 

Beginning photographers often ignore RAW format and shoot directly in JPEG. Of course, it has some advantages: a preview looks better, the file weighs less than a RAW image and any software will instantly open a picture in this format. 

The main advantage of the RAW file format is that it preserves much more information about your picture than JPEG. In simple words, a RAW file is a set of pure signals received from the camera sensor. This document can be compared to a negative that has yet to be "developed" (exposure, brightness, contrast, and other parameters). A JPEG, meanwhile, is a product that has already been processed by the camera with the parameters set. Anything past those parameters is deleted by the camera. 

All this means that if you shoot in RAW, you have a much better chance of turning the white highlights in your photo into objects you saw at the time of the shooting.

What Affects Overexposure

Now we already know that the quality of the future photo depends on the camera settings. To fix overexposed photos, pay attention to the following points in our complete guide.

ISO Level

It is easier to think of ISO as the sensitivity of the camera to light. Technically, this explanation is not quite right — ISO is actually a type of exposure gain that is added after the image is taken. True, this nuance won't affect your photos, so it's more convenient to look at ISO as light sensitivity in this context.

Most cameras have a base ISO of about 100. But as you increase the ISO, the exposure will get brighter. The brightest ISOs are useful for increasing exposure in certain situations, but have an unpleasant side effect: high values of this setting add noise to the photo, and this reduces sharpness and image quality. If there is enough light around, it is better to leave the base ISO value.

Aperture

Each camera lens has a hole in the barrel that can both expand and contract. This is called the aperture. The wider it is, the more light hits the sensor, thereby making the image brighter. Another important effect is its control over the depth of field, which determines which object will be in focus while the rest of the image will be blurred.

Shutter Speed

Talking about how to fix an extremely overexposed photo, we can't miss this point. Your camera has a shutter that covers the sensor from light. However, the second you press the shutter button, it opens, light hits the sensor, and an image is created. The shutter then closes the sensor back.

The amount of time from when the shutter opens to when the shutter closes is called shutter speed. It controls how much light reaches the sensor and thus the brightness of the image. An easy way to overexpose a photo is to set a slow shutter speed in bright light: you'll quickly overexpose the glare of the image and ruin the shot.

Correcting Overexposure in Postprocessing Software

So, we've looked at ways how to fix a picture that is too bright while you're shooting. If you find an overexposed photo after the fact, photo editors can help. Let's learn how to use them correctly.

Using Photoshop

One of the most popular tools for professional photo processing is Adobe Photoshop. It offers a great selection of all the features you need. Let's look at two ways how to edit an overexposed photo in this application.

Method 1. Using Blend Mode

  • This method is great for people who are used to working with blending modes. Let's look at the procedure:
  • Add the Levels adjustment layer to the image;
  • Instead of blending mode, choose Multiply;
  • Decrease the opacity until you get the desired result.

In addition to the ease of execution, this variant has another undeniable advantage. Your image won't lose any contrast, so the result will be great!

Method 2. Using a Levels Adjustment

For those who want a little more control over exposure in Photoshop, it's highly recommended to work with the Levels adjustment layer.

  • Simply create a new Levels layer as we did in the previous section;
  • Drag the mid-tones slider up;
  • Also, you can lower the white point by dragging the white slider to the left on the bottom gradient.

How to Fix an Overexposed Photo in Lightroom

It is a very popular processing tool. With it, you can also achieve a correctly exposed image. Let's look at methods to do this.

Method 1. Using the Exposure Slider

This method is great for fully overexposed images, which means that the shadows are too bright and the highlights and mid-tones are too bright. Let's break it down step by step:

  • In Lightroom, open the Basic panel;
  • Move the exposure slider to the left and adjust how dark you want the image to become;
  • If you think it's getting too dark, slightly move the slider to the right.

Method 2. Adjusting the Highlights and Whites Sliders

Find these sliders in the Lightroom Basic panel, under the Exposure slider. That way you can selectively control the exposure by adjusting the brightness of the highlights in your photo.

The Highlights slider is neater than the Whites slider, so try moving it to the left first and see how the results change. Then, if you're still not getting the effect you want, you can try lowering the Whites slider.

Working on how to fix over exposure, we also suggest you try the Graduated Filter. It's great if the darker areas of your photo look good, but the lighter areas require correction.

Luminar Neo Tools for Fixing Overexposure

If you are still in search of the best software for fast and high-quality image processing, Luminar Neo is a perfect choice. The main feature of this application is the use of AI tools, which allows you to make your work as comfortable as possible.

Speaking of correcting overexposed photos, a unique instrument worth mentioning is Relight AI. It creates a 3D map of the image, analyzing every detail and selecting the best settings for the perfect exposure of the frame. At the same time, the tool does not touch the parts that do not need to be corrected and works only with problematic areas of the image. Luminar Neo works equally well with absolutely different types of photos, from landscape photography to portraits. Your images will become real works of art!

Ways to Prevent Making Too Bright Photos: Summing up

If the settings of your camera were not adjusted correctly, it simply won't be able to convey the entire tonal range of the picture and the result will be extremely disappointing. Therefore, in order to understand how to correct an overexposed photo, and avoid it, you should follow certain rules:

  • Understanding the exposure triangle and its effect on the frame is very important. Carefully work through each setting.
  • If in doubt about whether you have a good shot, use a histogram. It will help you see if you made any mistakes and get the best shot possible.
  • Try to shoot in RAW format. Yes, you won't be able to quickly view it as a JPEG file, but it stores much more data and gives you much more options for perfect post-processing. Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, and Luminar Neo are great tools that can help you get the results you want.

The most important thing is not to be afraid to make mistakes. Try, experiment, and reach new heights in the fascinating world of photography!