How to deal with underexposed images


HDR has been around for a few years now, and most fall into the LOVE IT , or HATE IT categories. There really isn’t many people in the middle. But, that is not really what this post is about. The reason I bring up HDR images is you can use the principals of what HDR is to deal with some under exposed images. When I shoot at weddings or portraits (especially, weddings) we are often confronted with situations where we have to capture a scene that, quite frankly, our cameras just are not capable of straight out of the box. One such scenario is heavy backlit scenes. If we expose for the subject then the background will be completely blown out – gone. if we expose for the background then the subject is completely black. However, if we expose some where in between those two point we can use software to pull down the highlights and pull the shadows up.

Here is our image. A wedding near sunset with the sun streaming through the bridal party. btw, electronic flash has been banned by the officiant ( for those of you who are thinking, “we should have set up a few AlienBee800 and just blasted the scene with extra light” ) .  I set my exposure to capture all the details in the highlights.


Inside of lightroom i will adjust highlights -82, whites -82 and shadows +87 (salt and pepper to taste, every image will have slightly different values)



After that I set my exposure, so that neither my highlights/shadows clip: exposure +0.75, and it is looking a little flat so a contrast boost of +31




after that it is still looking a little flat, so we go to the cuves and add and “s” curve to bump it up a little more.


and then, after that, I thought it needed a little bit more brightness, so a little bump to the exposure.



And…. that about wraps it up. Here is the B/A:

Screen Shot 2012-12-17 at 2.03.14 PM


you will notice that pulling the shadows up will increase noise, so you will probably want to run it through some noise reduction software. I have also noticed that some cameras are better than others when you start pushing pixels all over the place. YMMV.


Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *