If you’ve captured an image that’s too bright, don’t worry because it can be recovered. Learn how to fix overexposed lighting in Lightroom.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2019. It’s been freshened up with new pictures and commentary on November 28, 2020.
Table of contents
Why you’re getting overexposed photos
An overexposed photo occurs when the brightest part of the image is too bright and “washed out”. If you don’t know why you’re getting overexposed images.
There are 3 things that affect exposure and the brightness of an image. They are ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
1. ISO. One of the most common ways that cause overexposure is an ISO that’s set too high. For example, if it’s a bright and sunny day, an ISO of 100 is perfect. If you set the ISO at 400, the photo will likely turn out too bright.
2. Aperture. Once you’ve set your ISO to the lowest possible, adjust the aperture. The wider your aperture, which means a lower f-stop number, the more light that’s able to hit your camera sensor. To make the image darker, increase the f-stop number.
3. Shutter Speed. Slower shutter speed controls the amount of time that your camera sensor is exposed to light. When it comes to shutter speed, overexposure occurs when it’s too slow. For example, the image will be brighter when you’re using a shutter speed of 1/60 compared to 1/200.
Note: Shooting in manual mode will allow you to control the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
A great way to avoid overexposed images is to use the light meter in your camera to measure exposure. This is a helpful tool to use when you’re changing your settings because you’ll be able to see how it affects the exposure.
Shoot in RAW
When you shoot in RAW instead of JPEG, editing will be easier and you’ll have more options. The chances of recovering a RAW image is much higher than a JPEG image because RAW files contain more image data than JPEG.
Although there’s no rule as to which you should be using, RAW files will give you more flexibility in post-processing. On the flip side, JPEG files are smaller so they take up less space on your memory card.
Therefore, consider which will be best for your situation before you go into a photoshoot. If you want to be able to manipulate the image easily in post-processing, shoot in RAW.
3 ways to fix overexposure in Lightroom
In the basic panel of the develop mode in Lightroom, there are 3 important sliders that can easily fix overexposure. There are exposure, whites, and highlights sliders.
1. Exposure slider
The exposure slider adjusts the overall brightness of the image. It’s the easiest way to adjust exposure in Lightroom and due to its sensitivity, you have to be careful.
When you move the slider to the left, the image becomes darker. When you move the slider to the right, it gets brighter.
You’ll notice that the image is now well-exposed but the dark parts of the image became darker as well. This is a result of using the exposure slider which affects the entire image.
2. Highlights slider
The highlights slider affects the brightest parts of the image and it’s a great way to bring back details that were washed out.
When you decrease the highlights, the brightest parts will become dimmer and when you increase the highlights, they’ll get brighter.
Decreasing the highlights made a huge difference in the photo. Generally, highlights are the easiest way to fix an overexposed image without making the shadows (dark parts of the image) darker.
3. Whites slider
The whites slider allows you to change what is considered “true white” in the image, it alters the white point.
By increasing the whites, what’s considered “true white” gets brighter and when you decrease the whites, the image looks more grey. Unlike the highlights slider, this affects the entire image.
In the image, you’ll notice the brightness wasn’t affected very much. However, decreasing the whites slider will help you bring down the exposure.
Editing with all of the sliders
After learning how to fix overexposed lighting in Lightroom, play around with the other sliders to edit the image to your liking. Below, I shared the adjustments which I made to fix the exposure.
Frequently asked questions
You can tell if a photo is too bright if the details are lost in the highlights, which are the brightest parts of the image. You can also use the histogram graph. If it’s all the way to the right, then it’s overexposed.
Avoid overexposure, and shoot an underexposed image, if you have the choice. When it’s underexposed, you still have the details in the photo, which you can brighten to reveal them clearly.
The root cause of overexposure is your settings. Try making your aperture smaller, shutter speed faster, or use a lower ISO.
Overexposure happens to everyone and Lightroom is a great way to fix the problem. Simply upload your image to Lightroom, then you can choose a method of fixing the exposure.
To save you time and effort, try to avoid overexposure when you’re shooting. The best way to avoid it is to keep an eye on the light meter and expose the brightest part of the image perfectly.
You can also turn on the histogram in your camera to ensure that your images are well-exposed every time.
Photos by David Em Photography.