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How to fix an overexposed photo in Lightroom

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by David Em
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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.

Estimated reading time: 0 minutes

Before and after photos of a portrait.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Screenshot of the basic panel showing the exposure slider to the left in Lightroom.
Screenshot of a portrait in Lightroom.

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.

Screenshot of the basic panel showing the highlights slider to the left in Lightroom.
Screenshot of a portrait in Lightroom.

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.

Screenshot of the basic panel showing the whites slider to the left in Lightroom.
Screenshot of a portrait in Lightroom.

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.

Screenshot of the basic panel in Lightroom.
Screenshot of a portrait in Lightroom.

Frequently asked questions

How do you know if a photo is overexposed?

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.

Is it better to shoot overexposed or underexposed?

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.

Why are my photos overexposed?

The root cause of overexposure is your settings. Try making your aperture smaller, shutter speed faster, or use a lower ISO.

Conclusion

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.

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Photos by David Em Photography.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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