Tutorial - 3 Ways To Brighten A Photo in PSE!

One of the most common problems I come across in my photo editing are photos that are underexposed - even just a little. It's common for cameras to err on the side of UNDER exposing, making our images turn out darker than they should. Thankfully, it's a problem that can be fixed quite easily in a number of different ways in Photoshop! Here are three quick fixes to brighten up those under exposed images! 

1. Levels
This is by far my favorite way to lighten and brighten an underexposed image in Elements. It's simple to use and I love the results. Let's try this method first! Open your photo. You can see this image of my daughter's chocolate bars is a little on the dark side.
 Click on Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Levels  (this path might be slightly different depending on which version of Elements you are working in - just be sure to find the Levels adjustment).
 A little screen like this will pop up. You'll see a histogram that looks like some mountains, and below that - three arrow sliders. One black, one gray, and one white. The white slider adjusts the highlights in the photos, the gray one adjusts the midtones, and the black (you guessed it!) the shadows! To brighten up a picture, you'll want to mainly be adjusting the white and gray sliders.
 So, I clicked on the white slider and started slowly sliding it to the left. You'll be able to see the difference on your photo as you work. Then I also slid the gray slider to the left until my image was brightened up significantly! This is a short and simple brightening method. Click OK when you like the effect!

 MUCH better, right?
 2. Brightness/Contrast
This is a method that I first learned, and while I don't love it as much as Levels, it works okay. After opening your photo, click on Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Brightness/Contrast.
 This little screen will pop up. All you'll want to do is slide the "brightness" slider to the right until your photo is brightened up! Makes sense! It doesn't give you as much control as using the Levels adjustment, but it's quick and works..okay.
 See? It's an improvement.

 3. Shadows/Highlights
This is a new one for me. I normally edit in CS5, so I haven't used this method, but it worked alright. Not a huge fan - I like the other methods better - but it works. Click on Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Shadows/Highlights.
 This little screen will pop up. All I did was slide the "Lighten Shadows" slider to the right to 55%, and adjust the Midtone contrast to 20%
 Meh. It's okay. It's brighter, but...kinda muddy. I don't know. Maybe if I played with this one a little more...Still, brighter is better!

It's amazing what a little brightening can do for a photo. It makes the colors POP, the details come out, and life just a little happier (okay, maybe not that last one, but it does for ME!). My ALL TIME favorite way to brighten a photo is using Curves, which isn't in Elements, but I'll save that for another day. Happy brightening! I'd love to see some of YOUR photo fixes - please feel free to email them. They might be featured on It Works For Me! Wouldn't THAT be awesome? Ya. I thought so (hee hee). Okay, just to leave you with brightening motivation...let's look at a before and after:


kathee said...

Thanks for the tip, I'm TRYING to work with PSE, but I need it written out plainly like you did for me to 'get it'. Thanks!!!!!

Mary said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to make a tutorial on brightning up a photo. I use PSE and have never tried using this method. Your photo looks so much nicer then the photos I have tried to brighten up. :)


Ten Cow said...

Thanks soo much for explaining levels. I never did understand how to adjust them until now! Thanks!

Erin Branham said...

One of my favorite ways to brighten a photo is to:

Create a duplicate layer (CTL + J or CMD + J)

Change the blending mode on the duplicate layer to "Screen."

If it's too bright, simply lower the opacity of the duplicate layer to the desired level of brightness.

It's like an instant Photoshop flash ;)