Photoshop offers a number of different ways to do things. When it comes to lightening a photo (or darkening for that matter) there are several different ways you can do it. Three of the easiest and most effective methods are shown in this tutorial.
Here is a look at the sample photo we’ll be using throughout this article:
1. Use an Exposure Adjustment Layer
One of the most basic ways to lighten a photo is use an exposure adjustment layer to increase the exposure. To add one simply click on the icon shown below.
The exposure adjustment layer gives you 3 sliders that you can work with: exposure, offset, and gamma correction. Move the exposure slider to the right to lighten the photo.
The offset slider will impact the shadow areas of the photo. Move the slider to the right to lighten the shadows. The gamma slider will impact the mid-tones of the photo. Unlike the first two sliders, with the gamma slider you will move it to the left to lighten.
With an exposure adjustment layer you’ll want to be very careful as these sliders can impact your photo with only small changes. Here is our sample photo after adjusting the exposure slider to 0.50 and the gamma correction to 1.15.
2. Use a Curves Adjustment Layer
The next option is to use curves to lighten the photo. Curves can be a little intimidating at first, but once you get used to it you will love using curves. To add a curves adjustment layer click on the icon shown below.
With the help of curves you can selectively lighten the parts of the photo that you want. The right end of the curve impacts the highlights of the photo, the left end impacts the shadows, and the middle impacts the mid tones. How you use the curve will depend on your photo and what you want to lighten, but one easy approach is to lift the center of the RGB curve to lighten the mid tones.
The curve above results in the image shown below.
Another option is to use a curve like the one below that will create a soft hazy effect.
Here is the result on our sample photo:
3. Use a Levels Adjustment Layer
In addition to exposure and curves adjust layers, levels is a third option that works really well. To add a levels adjustment layer click on the icon shown below.
With levels you can move the middle point to the left to lighten the mid tones, or move the right point to the left to lighten highlights (be careful not to blow out the highlights).
You can also move the black output slider to the right, which can give a hazy type of lightness.
Here is the sample photo after adjusting the levels.
Any of these methods will allow you to lighten your dark photos with some degree of control and selectivity. Next time you have a dark photo that you want to lighten, try the 3 techniques and see which one works best for your photo.