Photoshop: Darken Overexposed Images With Multiply Blend Mode :: Digital Photo Secrets

Photoshop: Darken Overexposed Images With Multiply Blend Mode

by David Peterson 1 comment

No matter how much we try to make our images just right, sometimes we mess up. That doesn’t mean we have to give up, however. With some simple editing in Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can bring color back into your overexposed images and possibly save them from ruin. Just follow these simple steps.

The Multiply Blend Mode

The multiply blend mode is a weird mode because it’s the only blend mode that goes back to the roots of Photoshop and other image editing programs. If you can imagine that each picture is actually a long list of color numbers for every dot, you can see how you could lighten or darken an image by multiplying the list by a certain number. That’s basically how the multiply overlay mode works.

Step 1: Open the offending image in Photoshop Elements

Today’s image comes from David DeHetre, a Flickr user who jokingly said he’d prefer to call this a “nicely exposed image of something very bright.” That’s the spirit David. I guess we’ll have to say this isn’t a correction so much as it is an “enhancement.”

We won’t pass any judgement on David,
but we will try the multiply blend mode.
Photo By David DeHetre

Step 2: Create a new levels adjustment layer

First, a bit of background. A Levels adjustment layer allows us to change the brightness and darkness of the image with sliders. Now if this were any other Photoshop Elements tutorial, we might do that. But in this case, we aren’t. We’re going to leave it be so we can use the multiply blend mode.

Once you click on this, a very small box will pop up, asking you to name the layer. For this small project, I didn’t bother with that, but I recommend you always name your layers something meaningful so in the future you'll easily know what each layer does. Click through, and your new adjustment layer will appear under the layers panel on the right.

The levels layer sits on top of the actual photo.
We aren’t modifying the photo at all.
We’re just modifying the way the layer on top blends with it.

Step 3: Change the blend mode from “normal” to “multiply”

Do you see the dropdown menu just above the Level 1 layer? Do you see where it says “normal?” We’re going to click on that and pick “multiply.” This will blend the layer with the photo and darken it in a way that reveals a lot more detail.

Once you click this, you’re pretty much done. Photoshop does the rest, and you’ll notice a pretty big difference in your image. Have a look.

It’s not perfect, but it is a lot more colorful and detailed. You’ll notice that the edges aren’t nearly as hazy as they were.

Concluding Thoughts

Unfortunately for this photograph, what we’ve done is the extent of what anyone should do. It's impossible to resurrect the information in the overexposed (white) parts of the image because they were too bright for the camera to record when it was taking the image. The multiply blend mode also has some limitations. If you apply the multiply blend mode too many times, you lose a lot of detail, and the image starts to look really really grainy. This particular adjustment is a lot like a get-out-of-jail-free card. You can only use it once.

If your image is half as overexposed as this one, you might just get lucky and end up with a keeper. Even if it turns out like this one did, at least you'll have a slightly better image, even if it isn't as good as you hoped. You don’t have to throw away everything that’s overexposed. Do what you can with this little trick, and if it doesn’t work, you might want to keep it anyway. Intentionally overexposing your images can sometimes create an interesting effect.

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