Increase Image Brightness Without Blowing Your Highlights

Increase Image Brightness Without Blowing Your Highlights

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

Lets face it, no matter how good a Photographer you are, not every picture you take will have spot on exposure, so inevitably, somewhere down the line you’ll be forced to tweak your lesser images in Photoshop. One of the more useful techniques I have found is how to increase the brightness of your image while holding back the highlights, so there’s no blown out areas. Here’s how to do it:

Add a Levels adjustment layer, by clicking, Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Levels.

(You can also use Curves if you are comfortable with it)

Click OK to add the Layer then adjust the central slider underneath the Histogram towards the left until you are satisfied that the darker areas of your image are now light enough. Don’t worry if some highlights in your image are now blown out or the whole of your image looks too bright, we’ll fix this in the next step. It is important to note, that if your highlights were already blown before you started then this technique wont help.

Now click, Image->Apply Image.

And you should get this screen:
Make sure your settings are the same as this screen, and click ok.

Voila! The darker parts of your image should be brighter, while the highlights should be back to normal, although your image may now look a little ‘flat’, so to bring it back to life, add a contrast adjustment layer and tweak the slider until your image looks good. And if the colours are a little flat, try adding a saturation adjustment layer.

You can brighten an image by just applying Levels to an image, but you will find that the whole image is brightened, rather than just the bits you want. So I have found that this simple yet effective technique is a great way to save an otherwise underexposed image or help bring a darker foreground to life. Happy Photoshopping!

How It Works

The apply image function, applies a negative of your image as a mask, so that white areas of the mask are brightened, grey areas are brightened slightly, and black areas (areas that are already bright) are left alone, therefore selectively brightening only areas of the image that need it.

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