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How to Rescue an Underexposed Image – Lightroom Tutorial

September 4, 2019

Hi! In this video, I’m going to show you
how to rescue an underexposed image, to turn a picture like this, into a picture like this. Hi! I’m Adam and welcome to First Man Photography and before we get into the video, if you haven’t
done so already, head over to, fill in your details to join the email list
and I’ll send you a free copy of the ebook on how to capture perfect exposure every time.
Okay, lets get into this. Sometimes mistakes happen and they happen
to the best of us. Imagine the situation where you’re presented with amazing photo opportunity.
You’re there, with your camera, you line up, an incredible composition, you know it’s
going to be a great shot, pull the trigger and then you look down and horrified when
you see that you’ve underexposed it. Then your photo opportunity has gone. This could
have happened because your autoexposure or semi-autoexposure mode has been thrown off
or if you shoot in manual, you simply made a mistake. Many would argue that you should
not rescue images. ‘You’ve got to get everything right in camera all the time.’
I don’t agree with is this. Having post-processing is a big part of what we do. If we make a
little mistake with the exposure, we can do something about it to rescue that image. Now
this image may not find its way on to someone’s wall or into your portfolio but we can still,
in this day of sharing images on Facebook and Instagram, where the resolution is low,
we can still use that image to put content out there and really help build our following.
So let’s get into Lightroom and I’ll show you how I did it. Okay, so here we are and we go straight into
Lightroom and this is the image we’re going to be working with. It’s a two minute long
exposure that I took at Bassenthwaite Lake in the Lake District. I’ve been out shooting
other locations and I wanted to grab this image just as I was leaving and but I didn’t
use my exposure calculator. I was rushing a little bit, made a mistake and ended up
with an underexposed image like this. I think it’s probably about two stops under exposed,
so I’m way, way out. So let’s go through it and see if we can improve things. The first
thing I’m going to do is to remove that vignette that often comes from long exposures
anyway but because I’ve underexposed it, it’s much more pronounced. So I’m going
to go straight down to the lens correction area and enable Profile Corrections. Now I
don’t want any Distortion Correction so I’m going to reduce that to 0 and increase that
vignette to 200 to remove as much of that natural lens vignette as possible. Not a massive
difference but it’s a start. So I’m going up to the top and make my standard adjustments
first. Just to show you, if we increase it by 11/2 to 2 stops, that’s somewhere in
the range of how much out I am with this exposure. I’m not actually going to adjust that because
I want to bring exposure up in other ways. The first thing I’m going to do is give
it a contrast boost. Somewhere around there… about 34, 35 and just to bring out some of
the details in the sky and bring out some of those colours. So, I think I’m going
to reduce the highlight a little bit just to give myself a slightly more balanced exposure
and get some the details out of the highlight areas there. The next thing I’m going to
do is increase the shadows a little bit and that’s going to start to bring some of the
detail out in the foreground. Next I want to increase the white because I want to bring
the true white into it, if you look up here in your histogram. I’m going to start by
dragging that up until it hits the edge and somewhere around 40 is about right. You can
start to see some detail coming through. But I want to increase the saturation and the
vibrance as well to really bring out some of those colours that are existing in that
picture. So let’s go with the Vibrance slider and pull it up to about 35. You don’t want
to overdo it because you still want it to look natural and then the Saturation slider
up to something around there, I think, maybe a little less. That looks about right to me.
Now this is where we’re really going to bring out some of the detail and rescue that
exposure. I’m going to use the Gradient here. The first one I want to do is bring
out some of the detail in the foreground. So I’m going to drag a Gradient up from
the bottom to the top, and if you hold shift down, it keeps everything straight and then
put my filter in. I want the central line be somewhere around here because I’ve still
got this hill I want to bring out some detail. I’m going to increase that by about a stop
and a half, I think, somewhere around where I was because if you go too far, as you can
see, because it’s all in shadow, you really start to introduce a lot of noise in the bottom
two corners. You really see that colour noise and that is not very nice. So I’m going
to keep it around 1.5, 1.38, something like, You can can still see detail but is not getting
too noisy. I’m also going to increased the temperature just a little bit to start bringing
some detail out in that water. I also want to bring some more of the detail out of those
vignette. So I’m going to go ahead and draw a couple more gradients in. Now I don’t
want as much this time so I’m going to go with about half a stop and a little bit of
warmth as well I think there and then drag in, from the corners, to bring out some of
that detail. So one there and one there and that’s starting to look a lot better in
the sky. I’m also going to put in a gradient from the top to bottom to bring out the detail
in that sky. Rather than adding exposure this time I’m going to reduce it just a little
bit to bring out the detail in that sky. It doesn’t need a lot. Somewhere around -.27,
something like that, will do trick. You can see I’m really starting to bring some detail
out in that now. I’m going to go ahead and add more warmth to the image. So I’m going
to drag this up to somewhere around there. I’m starting to like this image. With my
landscapes, I generally like add a little bit of pink if it hasn’t come in already
naturally. So somewhere around 12,15, I think, will work nicely for that image. Now that’s
starting to bring out some nice colour or bring out those colours that are already there
in the image. So it’s starting to look good but I’ve still lost a lot of detail in this
hill so I want to bring the exposure up a little bit. I’m going to do that by using
the brush tool. Now I want to just reset all the settings there and then just start to
paint your mask into this hill area. You can add your exposure already but I’m going
to do that after I’ve done it. Adjust the size of your brush with bracket keys and than
just paint that. I’ve already painted my mask over all of the hill area and then I’m
going to increase my exposure by raising the shadows. I’m going in for quite bit on here
but not too much again because you can see all that noise starting to come out. So I’m
going to bring it down to somewhere around 39 and it’s very subtle but you’re starting
to see some detail come out in that hill and it really makes a difference to that image.
I’m also going to add a little bit of warmth to it. Okay, I’m happy with that. I’m
going to quickly remove these two little marks here with my spot removal tool very quickly.
Now the last thing to do is to remove some of that noise still present in the image.
This is a key point of rescuing your images and you don’t want to go too far in most circumstances
because adding noise reduction will increase the softness of your image and you lose a
lot of detail. However, in my image here, it’s quite a soft image anyway so I can
get away with adding quite a lot of noise reduction. So come down or make your way to
the noise reduction tab here, drag that Luminance up first and that will smooth everything out.
I’m going to go quite high on this is, somewhere around 73 and if we zoom in on this area here,
you can start to see some of that noise has started to go away. It’s still there and
present so I’m going to add some of the colour noise reduction as well. Again, I’m
going quite high on this somewhere around there and it will remove some of the colour
noise from there as well you. You really need to be careful with his for the image I have
here. It’s actually not working out too badly going pretty crazy on that. So as you can
see, we’ve gone from an image like this to an image like this. I’m quite satisfied
with the results I’ve managed to pull off. So as you can see, it’s not that difficult
to do and you end up with some decent images you can share on things like Instagram and
Facebook. I hope you enjoyed this video, hit the Like
button and leave a comment down below to let me know what you think about rescuing images,
should we do it, shouldn’t we, I want to find out. If you haven’t done so already,
subscribe to the channel. There are videos going up on a Wednesday and a Sunday every
week and I’ll see on another video very soon. I’m Adam! This is First Man Photography… out!


  • Reply Night-ym- March 22, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Don't see any reason not to try and rescue a image. Only trouble is if shooting in JPEG you really not leaving yourself much leeway.

  • Reply David Black March 22, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Nice one Adam. Enjoyed this one. What Monitor are you using?

  • Reply sexysilversurfer September 23, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    It all depends on the sensor. (Esp older)Canon sensors need correct exposure whilst the newer Sony (style) can recover 4 stops of under exposure. This is a general statement, not looking to start ww3.

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