How many times have you taken a picture near sunset or twilight, only to get back a much darker image than the one you originally envisioned? It’s so common that I thought I’d a share a photo from a fellow reader with the same problem. Jimmie Lee wonders why his Fujifilm camera keeps giving him dark sunsets. The photo below in particular lacked the colors that were present when Jimmy took the photo. Let’s have a look at some of things that cause underexposure, and how Adobe Photoshop Elements can help us get the photo we see in our mind’s eye.
The cause of dark pictures
Jimmie took this photo using the shutter priority mode on his camera. Shutter priority mode allows the user to adjust the shutter speed while the camera automatically picks a corresponding aperture value, so it is still an automatic mode.
Why did the camera take a dark shot when using automatic mode? Simply - because it was tricked! Your camera does the best job it can in working out an exposure that won't result in too many parts of the image with too many very dark and too many very bright spots. The sun is always very bright, so the camera darkens the whole image to compensate.
The solution is to let more light in. There are two well known ways of doing this. You can either slow down the shutter speed, or you can widen the aperture. Both camera adjustments put more light on the sensor while it is being exposed. Because Jimmie was using an automatic mode, he can do the same thing by increasing the exposure value setting, effectively forcing the camera to allow more light in.
The other option is spot metering. By default, the camera takes its light readings by averaging the light in the scene being presented to it. When you switch over to spot metering, the camera will only take the light reading from a single location you pick. Just point the lens to a part of the scene that you want to be correctly exposed (not at the sun, or at very dark spots) and hold the shutter button halfway down to get the reading. Then, while continuing to hold down the shutter button, frame the image the way you want, and press the shutter button all the way down. The result will be a correct exposure.
The Photoshop fix
So, what can Jimmie do to fix this picture? Actually, there's lots. And Photoshop Elements makes it easy. With a few simple adjustments, his photo won’t be so dark. Here’s how to do it.
Step 1: Add a levels adjustment layer
We’re going to bring back an old Photoshop Elements trick we’ve used in a previous tutorial. When you add a levels adjustment layer, and you use the “screen” blend mode, it fixes the darkness right away.
Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels
When the small dialog box shows up, pick “screen” from the menu and click OK:
Step 2: Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
If you followed the above steps, you will already have noticed that your image is much brighter. Here is the result I got with Jimmie’s photo:
We can still do better. By adding a hue/saturation layer, we can make some of those colors pop out a lore more. Let’s get to work.
Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation
Click “okay” on the dialog box that pops up. You should see no change in the image.
Now have a look at the adjustments menu that just opened up on the lower right hand corner of your screen:
You’ll notice that I dragged the saturation bar to the right. Doing so makes the colors pop a little more. Depending on how much color you’ve already got, you can pick any range of settings. It’s really up to personal preference.
Here’s the final result after both adjustments:
Dark images happen when the shutter speed is too fast or the aperture isn’t open enough. Be careful of your camera’s automatic settings. Most cameras tend not to pick the right ones by default. If your camera creates an image that is too dark, use EV to bump up the brightness. You can also use Manual Mode to manually change the settings.
But even if you do mess up, there’s a good chance you can fix it with Photoshop. It certainly made a big difference in Jimmie’s case.
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