Lately, the most common question I get asked about photography is how to brighten a photo before publishing. You can do this in any editing program, even an app on your phone, but the results may not be great. A simple app will just add light to the whole photo, including the parts that are already bright enough. I use Lightroom on the PC but you may think it looks quite complex to use.
This is a simple demonstration of a few of the Lightroom brightening functions. It should help you pick the right one for your photo.
The Original Photo
Here’s the original photo I’m using today; a digital negative of Cathedral Quarry in the Lake District. A photo of this place featured in my recent Pic of the Week blog post. It’s a very high contrast photo. My aim in editing is to show it more as the eye could see it when we were there, with more detail.
The cave opening is far too bright and quite over-exposed, but as long as we bring out the texture inside the cave it’s not going to dominate so much.
I’m going to edit the photo several times in different ways, always starting from this original shot.
1. Fill Light
In my last blog post about Lightroom I showed how to “fill light”. This second image has filled light by a factor of 75%. Verdict: I think it’s obvious why this is one of my favourite Lightroom functions. Dark areas are brightened without blowing out more light areas. It also leaves some nice contrasting blackness.
2. Brightness or Exposure
Instead, in this next photo I have used the brightness slider and increased the brightness all the way (+150). This is exactly the same as increasing the exposure by two stops using the exposure slider. Verdict: Many areas have been brightened in quite a natural way but the cave opening is now bigger and whiter. Also hotspots of brightness have appeared in other areas. There’s more grain.
3. Auto Tone
The next alternative is to use the auto tone function. It’s just one click, and Lightroom makes its best guess. Verdict: This has a nice natural look and nothing is overdone. However it’s simply too dark and not enough has been changed.
4. Adjust Tone Curve
In this version I have manually adjusted the tone curve. I’ve increased the darks and reduced the highlights. You can see the numbers I’ve entered in the screenshot. Verdict: The very blackest areas of the image are not affected by editing with the tone curve, and there are too many of them.
5. Brighten a Photo with Two Lightroom Functions Together
None of the previous versions is really good enough. To brighten a photo it’s always better to do more than one change to get a nice edit. So for the last shot, to keep it really simple I’ve just done two things. First I did “auto tone” and then I used a bit of fill light, just 50%. This is an acceptable result I think.
Personally I would go on to do a lot of other tiny tweaks to the sharpness, grain, colour and the dynamics. However I want to keep it really simple in this demonstration to give you a chance to try to brighten a photo yourself.
What are you main struggles with editing photos? Comment below or get in touch to let me know.