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Suddenly sunny: Here's the original image, straight out of the camera. As you can see, the faces are washed out. It's approximately a stop too light. Fortunately, I shot it in RAW rather than JPEG. There's enough detail in this file, and I used Camera Raw to coax that detail out.

Back to basics: I felt I'd gone as far as I could with the Greyscale sliders, and returned to Basic mode to finish off the image. I kept exposure the same, but effectively stretched the image's dynamic range using the Highlights and Shadows sliders. These sliders will lighten or darken just the highlights, or just the shadows, without affecting the rest of the image. 

Almost there: In this shot, I pushed the yellows a bit too high. My goal was to get more detail in the hair of the woman on the right edge—a detail that I felt made the picture but was a bit lost. I also wanted to get a bit more detail in the clothing and the purple and blue sliders made that work. So now it looks a bit better, but we've again lost facial details again. 

Now I converted the image to black-and-white by first selecting the HSL/Grayscale menu, then checking "convert to Grayscale". 

Here's where Photoshop's secret sauce lies for anyone converting an image from color to black and white: The Grayscale mix lets you change the relative tonal brightness of discrete colors within the frame. Since skin tone tends to be most effected by the orange slider, I reduced that color slightly to bring out details in the washed out faces and hands. 

The image above was my first attempt. As you can see, I changed the relative tonal values on all the colors, looking for the right mix. 

Fixing it in RAW: Here's the same image, in the Adobe Photoshop CC Camera Raw workspace. I slid the exposure to -0.70 and reduced the highlights by -12. Now it looks better. Not perfect, but a good start. Let's convert it to black and white. To do this, go to the HSL/Grayscale icon, which is the fourth box from the left above where it says "Basic". Click on that and...

Ready to print! I achieved a good dynamic range, and managed to pull this image out of the abyss of overexposure. And I thanked my lucky stars that I shot this in RAW!

Oops!!! You Overexposed Your Digital Image! Can You Save It?

Step-by-step directions so you can bring back detail in overexposed photos in Adobe Photoshop and Convert to Black & White.

By Mason Resnick

Overexposure is the digital photographer's enemy. In the film days, the rule of thumb was "expose for the shadows, print for the highlights." Now it is the other way around: Expose for the highlights—get the best exposure with the most detail in the highlights—and then you can use your shadow slider in Photoshop or Lightroom to bring up the shadows, which might be blocked up if you're shooting a contrasty scene.

But let's say you've overexposed an image that you really like. Is there anything you can do? Well, if you shot it in JPEG, you are more limited, but you may be able to bring down the overall exposure and then open up the shadows using the shadow slider. But you can do much more if you shoot in RAW.


Here's a case in point. It had been a dark, cloudy, rainy day in New York. Suddenly the clouds parted and the sun burst through. I hadn't changed my settings sufficiently to compensate when I got to this corner and saw this scene. No time to make any changes. I shot and prayed I had enough exposure leelway so that I might be able to get a good black-and-white image. 

Let's go step by step.

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