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Fixing Underexposed Photos

This is a tonal correction for people who don't like making tonal corrections (over 60 million Americans suffer from the paralyzing fear of MTC [Making Tonal Corrections]). Since this technique requires no knowledge of Levels or Curves, it's very popular, and even though it's incredibly simple to perform, it does a pretty incredible job of fixing underexposed photos.

Step One:

Open an underexposed photo. The photo shown here, shot indoors without a flash, could've used either a fill flash or a better exposure setting.

Figure 3.19Figure 3.19

Step Two:

Press Command-J (PC: Control-J) to duplicate your Background layer (this duplicate will be named Layer 1 by default). On this new layer, change the Blend Mode in the Layers palette from Normal to Screen to lighten the entire photo.

Figure 3.20Figure 3.20

Step Three:

If the photo still isn't properly exposed, just press Command-J (PC: Control-J) and duplicate this Screen layer until the exposure looks about right (this may take a few layers, but don't be shy about it—keep copying layers until it looks right).

Figure 3.21Figure 3.21

Step Four:

There's a good chance that at some point your photo will still look a bit underexposed, so you'll duplicate the layer again, but now it looks overexposed. What you need is "half a layer." Half as much lightening. Here's what to do: Lower the Opacity of your top layer to "dial in" the perfect amount of light, giving you something between the full intensity of the layer (at 100%) and no layer at all (at 0%). For half the intensity, try 50% (did I really even have to say that last line? Didn't think so). Once the photo looks properly exposed, choose Flatten Image from the Layers palette's pop-down menu.

Figure 3.22Figure 3.22

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