How to fix overexposed photographs in Lightroom?


Is there something called perfect exposure? The straight answer is NO, but if the exposure is beyond what a camera sensor can record can be called as overexposed or underexposed. That being said a typical correct exposure could be checked by the help of Histogram, a digital photographer’s gift. If you would like to know how to read Histogram in an easy way, click here.

If you shoot photographs in RAW format you can recover the data from the underexposed as well from the overexposed areas of a photograph. If you are shooting in jpeg format time to rethink the way you shoot. There is a good article why you should shoot in RAW format here.

We assume that you shoot RAW format and your photograph got overexposed, let’s fire up Lightroom and see how to fix this.

The moment you see your over exposed photograph in Lightroom’s develop module the photograph and along with the histogram will most probably looks like this.

Screenshot 2015-05-05 17.55.20Screenshot showing an overexposed RAW format photograph with it’s histogram in Lightroom develop module, note the values crossing beyond the range in histogram.

In Lightroom, there is a way to see what are all the areas on the photograph been overexposed, just hit “J” from develop module. All the overexposed areas will be converted into red color on the display, on the other hand any underexposed areas would be shown blue in colour.

By the way what does it mean for a non-technical person to be overexposed or underexposed? It means there are no details stored in that region, if you print that file there will be pure black inks on the underexposed region and blank paper on the overexposed region.

Screenshot 2015-05-05 18.07.31Screenshot showing overexposed region of the photograph, the region in red colour is overexposed.

Unfortunately you are not in a position to know how many stops the photograph is actually overexposed. On the other hand fortunately you can push the histogram inside the dynamic range of the medium by simply bringing down the exposure slider towards your left hand side. It’s as simple as that in Lightroom.

Screenshot 2015-05-05 18.05.30Screenshot showing the image after reducing the exposure value upto negative 2 stops.

After bringing down the exposure slider towards negative 2 stops, you can see the data range been distributed inside the visible range, marked red in colour in the screenshot. We will fix the remaining in the next steps. If you are interested in reading in-depth details of the where the maximum data been stored in the photograph, click here. Warning – It is technical one.

If you look at the sliders below Exposure, contrast is there and the next one is Highlights. Bring that slider towards your left up to negative 25. Now you can see that the red colour alert is gone and the photograph have attained an acceptable correct exposure.You can see that no pixel have gone beyond the histogram, which is a sign that the photograph is not overexposed.

Imagine we have brought back details from 2 stops overexposed photograph. This is possible only because the photograph is shot in RAW format as it has the data as is. I understand that the documentary photographers are not allowed to process, not even to correct the White balance. It is entirely a different case altogether which we are not going to discuss here.

Screenshot 2015-05-05 18.59.55Screenshot showing Exposure reduced negative 2 stops, Highlights to -25. Note that the alert been enabled

Now that we have fixed the exposure, we can proceed further to process the photograph to the next level. The next step would be to fix the contrast as it is evident from the Histogram. The tonal range is not distributed from one end to the other end (technically from black points to white points) on the histogram, rather it is spread only on the right side of the histogram.


In this case, to distribute the tonal range across the histogram you have to make the dark points darker, so that the tonal range gets distributed across the histogram, thus better contrast. This can be done by two ways one is to increase contrast, by just bringing the contrast slider below exposure slider towards your right hand side. This slider works by increasing the bright portion brighter and decreasing the dark portion darker but we cannot allow the photograph to go brighter else we will see the red alerts (Highlight clipping). The only option left is to bring down the shadows slider towards your right and Blacks slider towards your left hand side.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 10.20.23 amScreenshot showing the photograph after bringing down the shadows and Blacks, note the tonal range is now better distributed across the range of histogram without clipping at both the edges.

Note  : The shadows slider has actually brought down brightness of the bottom angular wall on the photograph. If you do not want it to happen, you may apply a separate Graduated filter over the wall to bring brightness on it.

The next steps would be to fix White balance, Tone curve contrast, Applying Lens corrections, Sharpening.

I have shifted White Balance towards left hand side by 750K from As shot, applied medium Tone Curve, “Auto” Lens profile Corrections, Sharpening and the final output is below.

If you are interested in knowing more about sharpening, I have wrote a detailed article in my blog here. Sharpening is one important aspect in digital photography, many people have spent their whole life researching about sharpening, exposure.  But Lightroom has made our life much easier, it’s really easy sharpening photographs in Lightroom.

Allwyn_Shibana_A9760The final output after applying the above discussed corrections. This is not a screenshot.

Screenshot 2015-05-06 10.54.51Screenshot showing the final photograph along with the other corrections applied at the develop module.

It is always a safe practice to overexpose the photograph by one stop, historically achieving the perfect exposure is always been a tricky one and mastering it takes some time and people like Bryan peterson have wrote detailed book about exposure and for online resources Luminous Landscape is having excellent articles. If you are looking for a comprehensive article about exposure click here .

Hope this article has helped you to save many photographs where you might have accidentally overexposed, do you have some thoughts about exposure? Do let me know in comments section.


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