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Photoshop Elements: Brighten Underexposed Photos With The Screen Blend Mode

Photoshop Elements: Brighten Underexposed Photos With The Screen Blend Mode

We recently did a tutorial on the multiply blend mode and how you can use it to correct an image that is too bright. If you followed the tutorial, you no doubt realized that Photoshop Elements has quite a few options for blending layers. One of them is the direct opposite of the multiply blend mode. With the screen blend mode, you can fix underexposed images. Let me show you how.

Load the image you want to fix

As you do this, you’ll start to learn which images can and cannot be fixed. Here is one that can definitely be fixed. It has a lot of colors in the scene already, so bumping them up a bit should produce quite a dramatic improvement. A difficult image to fix tends to have a lot of black surrounding the subject. It wouldn’t matter what you try to do. You aren’t going to get any detail out of a giant black blob.


Our image definitely has the potential to be saved. Time to get started.
Photo By Brendan Adkins

Adding the levels adjustment layer

Once your image is open in Photoshop Elements, it’s time to add a levels adjustment layer. A levels adjustment basically allows you to adjust the brightness and darkness of the image using sliders. If this were any other tutorial, we would play with the levels adjustment layer directly, but we’re not. We are simply going to use the levels layer as a quick way to get to the screen blend mode.

To add a new levels adjustment layer, click on layer –> new adjustment layer.

This window will pop up:

Do you see where it says “mode” ? That’s the blend mode. Click on that and switch it from normal to screen blend mode. I also get in the habit of creating a descriptive name for the layer. While it doesn’t matter for small changes like this, when you start to make lots of small modifications to your image with new layers, you’ll appreciate knowing what each layer does.

Now all you need to do is click O.K. for Photoshop to work its magic. Here is the new image, now much closer to what we want.

You can really see the color coming through. The flesh tones look about right, and nothing appears too dark. We really did pick a photo that can be improved upon.

Changing The Degree Of Brightness

If you aren’t entirely satisfied with your initial result, you can continue to make smaller adjustments to the effect by changing the opacity of the adjustment layer. “Opacity” is a fancy way of talking about the degree to which you can see through any layer. The greater the opacity, the less you can see through the layer to what’s underneath. So if we reduce the opacity of the levels adjustment we just added, it should darken the image overall.

You can find the opacity slider under the layers menu. Click on it and drag the slider left or right to adjust the intensity of the effect.

Do take note that opacity is a percentage. You can’t make something more opaque than it already is, so you can’t use the opacity slider to amplify the effect. You can only use it to lessen the effect.

How to brighten even more

If you still don’t feel like the adjustment made your image bright enough, you can keep adding more levels adjustment layers with the screen blend mode. With other blend modes like multiply, doing this can reduce the quality of the image. Not so with the screen blend mode. You can keep adding as many levels layers as you want.

Here’s what I got after adding two more levels adjustment layers on top of the one I just did.

Now we’ve gone from underexposed to overexposed. As you can see, there’s a lot of room to play with here. If I wanted to, I could adjust the opacity on any of the layers to dial down the effect until the result is absolutely perfect.

The screen overlay blend mode is a quick and easy way to fix an underexposed image. Most of the time, all you need to do is add one levels adjustment layer, and that’s it. The effect is usually correct right out of the gate. As long as your starter image isn’t too far from the end goal, you’ll probably get a good result.

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About the Author ()

David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.

Comments (5)

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  1. Rosie says:

    This totally helped my photo!!! I think you’ve just changed my life. Thank you so much for posting this!!!

  2. George says:

    I love your tutorials David, but I never see any of the pictures on the page. Does anyone else have this problem or is it just me?

  3. Antonio Rodrigues says:

    Allways very good tutorials. Thank you very much

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