How to fix an overexposed photo without Photoshop

Took an awesome shot only to discover that it's taken in too much light? Don't delete it just yet - there is a way to fix it! And no, Photoshop or Lightroom don't have to be involved. In this guide, we'll show you how to fix a picture that is too bright using PhotoWorks. This easy to use photo editor has a series of powerful tools to deal with lighting issues - either in a one-click manner or using old-school manual adjustment. Keep on reading to learn a few simple tricks that can help you save that unlucky shot.

Understanding the Problem: Meet the Histogram

It's real hard to get the lighting right at times, especially when taking photos outside in sunlit weather. A camera (or photographer's) mistake will result in excessive brightness and lost detail. The tiny LCD screen on the camera back may not give you any hint of the problem, and you will often face it only when you're back home and open your pictures on the computer. A decent photo editor will have a histogram - this helpful tool will show you whether your image exposure needs fixing.

Histogram will show an image exposure

Histogram in PhotoWorks

So what does this rainbow-like graph tell us? The horizontal axis of the histogram shows the tonal range of the photo, with dark tones on the left, midtones in the middle and light tones on the right. If you notice that most of the pixels in your histogram are piled up towards its right edge, and there's an obvious gap on the left, this likely means that your picture is overexposed. Even for a naturally light photo taken on a snowy day, there have to be some dark tones that make up the snow texture. If there are none at all, you'll see that gap towards the left edge which signals overexposure.

Overexposure in the histogram

Now how can you fix overexposed photos? Here are a few basic tricks.

Sometimes it is a lot easier to prevent a problem than to solve it in post production. If you want to avoid overexposing your photos, then read these photography tips that will help you get the perfectly lit shot.

1. Try Auto Lighting Correction

  1. Download PhotoWorks, install, then run the software. Open your picture in it.
  2. In the Main tab on the right, you'll find the Auto Correction option. Click it.
  3. With a bit of luck, the automatic picture editor will cope with the task by itself. Its image enhancement engine will discover most of the standard issues and adjust the tonal range accordingly.
Automatic lighting correction

Save your washed-out photo using auto correction

But you certainly know that photography is all about your own vision, and you probably want to set your own accents here and there. This is why automatic correction may not completely satisfy you. If this is the case, let's move on.

2. Adjust Overall Exposure

  1. In the right hand panel, find the Tone section – this is where all the vital lighting controls are located.
  2. Drag the Exposure slider to the left until the photo looks good to you. As you drag, you'll notice the histogram creep to the left.
  3. Dragging the same slider to the right will ligthen the image – it's good to know that in case you need to make a dark picture brighter.
How to fix overexposed photos

Fix lighting issues manually by adjusting the exposure

You should be extremely careful with the Exposure setting since the changes are applied to each and every pixel in the photo. As you lower the overall exposure, the darker areas are affected too, getting even darker, which may be undesirable for you.

3. Tweak Whites and Highlights

Now let's learn how to edit overexposed photos in a smarter way. The Whites and the Highlights sliders allow you to work with bright areas only, without touching the dark ones. Take a look at the example below.

Adjust Whites

  1. First, drag the Exposure to the left. This will reduce excessive brightness, but might make the photo somewhat gloomy.
  2. To make the bride's photo light and airy, you need to adjust the Whites setting by dragging the correspondent slider to the left. This will help you get rid of the extreme whites without affecting the natural tone of the entire image.

The Highlights setting is even more delicate than Whites – it lets you work with a wider range of light pixels. Let's see how to recover the lost detail on the image below.

Adjust Highlights

  1. First, lower the Whites to fix overexposure. As you can see, the photo still seemed a bit too bright.
  2. Now, tweak the Highlights to bring back detail and add depth to the girl's face.

When playing with the settings in the Tone section, you'll naturally find Shadows and Blacks helpful as well – use them to boost the darker parts of the shot in order to add contrast and depth.

4. Fix Sky Exposure in Landscape Shots

A most common problem with landscape photos is the washed out sky. It's hard to avoid even for experienced photographers, just because the camera sensors have difficulty capturing the entire range of tones that a human eye can see. If the bottom part of your landscape is just perfect but the sky is too bright, PhotoWorks lets you save the sky with the Graduated Filter.

  1. Switch to the Retouch tab and pick the Graduated Filter.
  2. To apply the filter, hold the left mouse button down and drag the filter over the area you need to work with – in our case, from the top edge down covering the sky.
  3. Now tweak the Tone settings just as we did it for the entire image, as well as the Temperature setting to improve the white balance. This time, the changes are applied to the selected region only, without affecting the land.

Love shooting landscapes with your cell phone camera? Did you know that you could fix the overexposed sky without desktop software? Browse through these Snapseed tutorials to find out how to save your overly bright shots right on your phone.

How to fix overexposed sky

Correct overexposed sky with the Graduated Filter

Ready to restore your pictures that you thought were beyond repair? Don't hesitate and download PhotoWorks for free!

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Try More Photo Enhancement Techniques

As you see, PhotoWorks provides you with a great deal of tools to fix overexposed photo - and this is only a small part of what it has to offer. Here are some more features you'll love:

Want to discover even more effective tools of this powerful software and take a step to becoming a photo editing guru? Watch this video to learn easy photo enhancing tricks.

Enhance your image in 3 steps

It doesn't take much time to turn your less-than-stellar image into a pro shot. You just need a teaspoon of your time and PhotoWorks!

PhotoWorks team, a dedicated group of authors and artists with a passion for photography and graphic design. We are happy to bring you first-class content to make your exploration of our software easy and enjoyable.

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