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How to Brighten an Image in Photoshop

Published: 16/06/2021

A perfectly captured image should have the right amount of color, contrast, and brightness so that it has a lasting impact on the viewer. Conversely, images that are underexposed have hidden details and a gloomy feel. Knowing how to brighten an image in Photoshop will help you fix such images quite effectively. 

How to Brighten an Image in Photoshop

To create visuals with a high appeal, adequate brightness and exposure are vital. You can express way more with a bright image which eventually grabs the viewer's attention. Also, the colors and contrasts are portrayed accurately only if the brightness level is correct, as opposed to dark images where it’s hard to figure out the details.

Images that are underexposed usually have a high amount of shadows and dull colors, which can easily be restored using Photoshop's multiple functionalities. In this article, we have defined several ways using different tools and combinations of features that can brighten your image without affecting its quality. 

Let's explore the various ways to add brightness to an image in Photoshop. 

Method 1: Blend Modes and Vibrance

The first method that we would recommend to rectify brightness is simply changing the blend mode and adding some vibrance to your image. The blend modes in Photoshop are one of its top features. They are great to use when you need to lighten or darken images or seamlessly blend images and overlays.

The basic method for using blend modes and vibrance is:

  1. Upload the image in Photoshop using the File menu. You can use the Open option to import the image or create a new document of the desired size and add your photo to it.
Underexposed image
  1. The next step is to create a duplicate layer of your background image. Right-click on the background layer, and click on the Duplicate layer. 
  2. The blend mode drop-down menu is present right on the upper left section of the Layers panel. It is set to normal by default. 
  3. Click on the drop-down menu, and set it to Screen. It is a blend mode for lightening the image. Therefore applying it would make your dark image appear brighter.
Image brightened using Blend Modes and Vibrance

Vibrance 

There is a chance that even after applying the Screen mode, you may need to bring up the vibrance to boost the saturation of colors that are otherwise lessened due to the shadows. Also, the brightness increased by Screen mode also causes some colors to appear dull.

  1. For color augmentation, click on the New Fill or Adjustment layer icon found at the bottom of the Layers panel. 
  2. From the drop-down menu, select Vibrance.
  3. In the Dialog box that appears, adjust the vibrance and saturation sliders to add some color saturation. 
  4. It is recommended to bring up the vibrance slider first before moving on to the saturation slider. Then, click OK when you are satisfied with the results.

Method 2: Shadows/Highlights Adjustment

  1. Begin the process by opening the image into Photoshop. Then, go to File > Open. Locate your image and click ok.
  2. Press CTRL + J on Windows or CMD + J on Mac to duplicate the background layer. This step is essential to keep the process reversible.
  3. Convert the duplicate layer into a Smart Object by going to Filter > Convert for Smart Filters.
  4. Launch the Shadows/Highlights adjustment by selecting it from the Image menu. Go to Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights.
Adjusting brightness using the Shadows/Highlights option
  1. Increase the Shadows by moving the slider to the right. After that, decrease Highlights. Click ok once you feel the image is good enough.
Image with an adjusted brightness level using the Shadows/Highlights option
  1. You can also go a step further and add contrast by creating a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer. 

Method 3: Levels

Expert photographers and image editors prefer using the Levels feature in Photoshop to adjust brightness. The levels panel may seem intimidating at first, but we will try to simplify it for you so that you can make use of this helpful feature effectively.

Remember that the basic function of Levels is to adjust the brightness and contrast in the image by specifying its blacks (shadows), whites (highlights), and mid-tones.

  1. Launch Adobe Photoshop CC.
  2. Drag and drop your image in Photoshop.
  3. Make a copy of the background layer using CTRL/CMD + J to preserve the original image.
Image with dark shadows and dull lightning
  1. Click on New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon and select Levels.
  2. In the levels panel, you will see a histogram that shows the tonal range of the image.
  3. In the slider, 0 represents black points, so any tonal ranges at zero level show that these areas in the image need to be brightened. As the slider goes up, it shows the mid-tones and then whites (highlights) at the far right at 255 value.
  4. Move the mid-tones and whites to the left to add brightness.
  5. After that, you can move the blacks point to the left slightly to make further improvement and get rid of the shadows. 
Image edited with the Levels feature
  1. Avoid adding overexposure to the image as it will give it an unnatural and bizarre look.

Method 4: Curves

Curves adjustment is another intuitive tool in Photoshop to increase or decrease exposure in images. Other than that, it can also be tweaked to adjust the contrast.

  1. Import the sample image in Photoshop. 
  2. Make a copy (Duplicate Layer) by clicking on your background layer and dragging it down to the Create a New Layer icon.
  3. Click on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon (the half-filled circle) and select Curves.
  4. When the curved window appears, assess the histogram to see the dark tones (left-hand side) and light tones (right-hand side). 
  5. As you click on the central point of the curve and bring it up, the image will start to brighten up.
  6. Make sure not to brighten the highlights excessively as that would obscure the details.

Method 5: Exposure Correction

You can also use the Exposure adjustment layer to make corrections in an underexposed photo. In the Exposure window, you will get three sliders out of which the top one is for exposure, the middle one is for the Offset, and the last one for gamma adjustment.

  • Exposure Slider: Moving the slider to the right will help you get rid of the dull, dark tones and lighten the image overall. 
  • Offset Slider: This slider helps adjust the shadows in the image so you can try to bring it to the right side to get rid of shadows
  • Gamma Slider: The gamma slider will take care of the mid-tones in the image. Therefore you can slightly increase it to boost the color contrast of the picture.

Method 6: Brightness/Contrast Adjustment Layer

Another adjustment layer commonly used to add brightness to the image is the Brightness/Contrast. Although it is the most apparent option for image brightening, we give it a mention in the end as we intend to encourage you to learn all the techniques instead of relying on a single one.

  1. Launch Adobe Photoshop CC and import your underexposed image into the program.
  2. For non-destructive editing, make sure you first make a copy of your background layer. Then, right-click on the background layer and select the Duplicate layer. 
  3. Next, add the adjustment layer for Brightness/Contrast. Click on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer. Select Brightness/Contrast from the drop-down menu.
  4. Increase the brightness slider until the dark areas are effectively brightened.
  5. Move on to the Contrast slider and rectify the paleness added as a result of adding brightness.

Conclusion

Every method shows different results in the images, and it highly depends upon the image quality on how it will appear after the editing effects. All the dull, dark images that you thought were of no use can be restored with the methods that we have described.

You can practice these techniques and master them to add the brightness effect to your images perfectly. 

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