10 Easy Ways To Brighten Dark Photos

10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos
10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos

For when your pictures are coming out gloomier than you’d like, and you want to brighten dark photos up.

10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos

10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos

10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos

10 ways to brighten up dark photos easily

10 Ways to Brighten Dark Photos

Switch to aperture priority

If the exposure triangle is something you struggle with (it can be very confusing) then switch to aperture priority, which is usually A or Av on the camera dial. I did this when I really had no idea how to take pictures on my DSLR or how to edit properly. It instantly made my pictures brighter. You control the aperture (f/stop) number (remember, the lower the number the less will be in focus), the ISO number, and exposure compensation (more about this in the tip below). AV mode sets the shutter speed for you so your picture is properly exposed. Make sure to use a tripod or be very still when using this setting because it can cause camera shake depending on how low the shutter speed number is.

This is the exposure dial:

exposure compensation

exposure compensation

aperture priority mode photography

f/ 4.5, 1/80 shutter and ISO 200 (unedited)

aperture priority mode photography

Same photo shot using AV mode. Shutter speed now set to 1/30 (unedited)

Switch to program mode

I normally shoot in manual mode, but I switch over to the “P” mode when my lighting is really horrendous. In this mode, your DSLR will decide which aperture and shutter speed to use, but you can still change the ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance. Exposure compensation is what I like to fiddle with when the lighting is extra gloomy. Scrolling it up will increase your brightness, but just be careful not to wash your picture out. If you’re okay with giving up some control, this is a great way to brighten up your images without editing.

Program mode canon dslr

Same photo shot now in program mode. f/2.5 and 1/60 shutter speed with exposure bumped up to 1 on the dial (unedited)

Play with curves

Editing completely changed for me the moment I started using curves. I use Photoshop CC, but this feature is available for free using Fotor or using the paid version of PicMonkey so you can still use it without investing in Photoshop. I like to play with curves as an adjustment layer. That way I can always get rid of it or change it during my editing process. Simply go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. Or, at the bottom of your Layers panel there is a circle that is half filled in. Click that and go to curves. Super easy!

How to make dark photos brighter in Photoshop

Use curves to make dark photos brighter in Photoshop

Play with levels

This is another editing tool I discovered in Photoshop, but it’s free to use on BeFunky or with the paid version of PicMonkey. You can play around with the black, grey and white tabs and drag them around to brighten up your images. You can even darken up the blacks so your picture doesn’t get washed out. In Photoshop you can access the levels adjustment the same way you access curves, but click levels instead.

Increase the whites

If you’re using Photoshop and editing in RAW, there is a tab that allows you to increase the whites in your photo. This makes your whites whiter so your overall image is brighter without getting washed out.

Unedited image vs increasing the whites in Photoshop CC

Unedited image vs increasing the whites in Photoshop CC (and yes that is sticky putty on the Marc Jacobs bottle that I didn’t edit out yet :p)

Use more reflectors

I’ve talked about how useful reflectors are, and even though I haven’t invested in a proper one, the foam board I use is doing quite well for now. But, on top of that, making mini reflectors from white/ silver card stock and sticking them in front of your products is helpful too. It helps brighten up the main focus of your photos and gets rid of dark shadows that you don’t want.

How to brighten your photographs easily

No reflector (unedited)

How to take brighter photos DSLR

This is unedited with only a mini reflector added on the right side of the photo. See how even a small reflector helps brighten dark photos easily

Adjust brightness + exposure

During editing, I always like to play with the exposure feature and the brightness feature. It’s easy to overexpose or over-brighten your image though so be careful with this. But, both features are a great way to brighten up your pictures in post. I think editing is a huge player if you want your pictures to look just right.

how to brighten dark photography photoshop cc

Adjusting only the brightness and exposure to the photo with a reflector

Up the ISO

Upping your ISO number is a great way to add brightness before editing. You can set it on auto if you want your camera to figure it out for you depending on your aperture and shutter speed settings. I generally keep my ISO number at 100 on brightly lit days, 200 when it’s a little gloomier, and 400 if it’s even darker. Keep in mind, upping the ISO does increase noise, which basically means your photos will be a little grainier.

how to brighten dark photos easily

ISO 100 (unedited minus removing the sticky putty you saw on the MJ bottle above :p)

how to brighten dark photos easily

ISO 200 (unedited)

Widen the aperture

This is a part of the exposure triangle (ISO, aperture, shutter speed) and all three play a big role in how much light is let in to your camera. Obviously, the more light, the brighter your photo. It can be a bit confusing, but play around with it and you’ll get the hang of it. Lowering your f stop number is a great way to add brightness. The lower the number, the brighter your photo because your aperture is wider and allows more light in. But, the lower the number, the less of your image will be in focus. This is great if you want one object to really stand out in your photo.

What is f stop number photography basics

F stop set to 6.3 (notice more is in focus)

Photography basics f stop and aperture

F stop set to f/4. Notice that the background is more blurred.

Slow down the shutter speed

Shutter speed is another component of the exposure triangle, and it controls how much light is let in through your lens. Lowering the shutter speed number (aka a slow shutter speed like 1/20) will allow more light in, and a high shutter speed number (aka a fast shutter speed like 1/125) helps freeze motion, but less light will be allowed in. Too low of a number can introduce camera shake and cause your photos to be blurry. If I’m using a tripod, I like to set my shutter speed pretty low. Again, shutter speed is also dependent on what you’re photographing. Shooting action shots is much different than taking pictures of makeup. But, if you’re photographing still life (i.e. flatlays) indoors with not the best lighting, then lowering your number (as long as you use a tripod, or stay very still, to avoid camera shake and blurriness) is fine.

Photography basics shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/80

Photography basics shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/30

All of these are great ways to easily brighten dark photos, but…

…using them in conjunction with one another is the best way.

An example:

how to brighten dark photography dslr

No reflector + ISO 100

how to brighten dark photography dslr

Mini reflector added in the front, large reflector added on the side + ISO 100

how to brighten dark photography dslr

With reflectors + ISO increased to 200

how to brighten dark photography dslr

With reflectors + ISO 200 + editing like increasing whites and brightness.

10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos

10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos

What do you do when your photos aren’t as bright as you like? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • This is such a helpful post!

    xo, Liz

  • These are some great tips! Lighting is so important in a photo and it always helps make a blog look pristine and well cut.

    Alexis | http://www.alexisanneofficial.com

    Instagram: @lexxianne

    Twitter: @AlexisAnneBlog

  • Excellent post and such useful and helpful tips. Thank you for sharing! xx

    Ann-Marie | http://facetocurls.com

  • Ela

    Wish I had an SLR so I could take better photos, but I’m quite happy with my iPhone 7 Plus! :)
    Ela | http://www.stealingyoursunbeams.wordpress.com

    • The iPhone 7 plus camera is amazing! I just upgraded and wow. I wish phone cameras were as good when I first started blogging.

  • Ho boy, I can go crazy with increasing/decreasing whiteness because I want my background to be crisp white as possible. Level is such a life-saver for me, more so than curves? Because it gives me more control. Need to invest on good reflector, it does magic!

    Selene Addicted

    • Reflectors are so good! I should probably invest in a proper one lmao

  • Charlotte

    Wow I never knew the aperture could make such a difference! I always stick to changing the exposure and brightness, I feel that does a great job but I cannot wait to try out all of these bonus tips!
    Charlotte / Charlotte’s Picks

  • Bookmarking this post for sure! I don’t have Photoshop but this post is filled with so many amazing tips!

    Shireen | Reflection of Sanity

    • Thanks girl! You really don’t need to invest in Photoshop anymore. There are so many awesome free tools and apps now!

  • Ooo, thanks for sharing this! I just found out about that Exposure Comp. thing a few weeks ago and it’s been a life saver haha.

    Nicole | The Glam Surge

  • Rebecca Fletcher

    These are some amazing tips. Thanks so much for sharing them! I am rubbish at understanding my cameras settings so this really did help me. x


  • very great tips. Thanks

  • Great tips! Thank you so much. I really need to buy second light, because lately I’ve been taking pictures at night and I don’t like the shades on one side.

    Michelle Morchella

  • Nicole

    Love this post! I was looking for something like this for a while! Thank you for all the tips! xx


  • I really loved this post! Thank you for adding all that detail and these tips really do help! This post reminded me that I need to figure out the P mode of my camera. Xx

    Sarah // Beautybyrah

    • The P mode is lifesaver haha! I’m glad you enjoyed it and found it helpful :)

  • This is SO helpful! I love the before and after shots, it really shows how meaningful each step is, and how much everything is amped when you use these tips in conjunction. Saving this to stalk before my next pic session! Great post!

    Jenn | http://www.beautybyjellybean.com

    • Yay! I’m glad you found it helpful babe :). Your pictures are already stunning so you don’t need any tips from me!!

  • Such a nice informative post. Thank you.

  • So helpful! Thank you x


  • Fatima

    Great advice!! Definitely keeping this tabbed so I remember :)

    Fatima x http://www.fatima-writes.blogspot.com

  • Most of these tips are the reason I’m still a sane blogger this winter lol. Thanks for sharing!

    Mili | Sharmtoaster

  • Yeeees! Curves is heaven sent haha! I just discovered the whites feature in lightroom too. So great! Thanks for sharing :) x

    Katina Lindaa | http://www.katinalindaa.com

  • Bernadette

    While I am currently using My phone which is an Oppo (hybrid apple / samsung) which has definitely improved my photo game. Before that i used my ipad which served me well and i improved a lot on it. But i am definitely greatful for my phone as the camera is better.

    This post will be quite helpful for me when i do eventually invest in a proper blogging camera.


    • An Oppo sounds awesome! I wish phone cameras were as good as they are now when I first started blogging. I wouldn’t have invested in a DSLR so early without understanding how to use it.

      • Bernadette

        I do want to eventually get a DSLR but atm the moment as long as the photos a clear and bright with some editing of course I’m happy I do want to get myself white cardboard and stick to one side of my blogging table so I can take photos of beauty products standing up as well. It’s all about lighting really, without good lighting photos won’t look good.

  • This is so helpful!!! Can I ask how you create grey backgrounds? :)

    xx Sofia | SOFIAADOT

    • I’m glad you found it helpful :). I just use a marble background :)

  • Amy Harris

    Thank you so much! This will be so helpful for me as I struggle sometimes with my photos and I can’t get them to be how I want them but least if I try these techniques they will look much better :)

    Amy x | https://50shadesofblush.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Samileen

    Great tips Nida, but I’m distracted by that pearlessence coconut water, where did you get that one from? I have been looking for it everywhere.

    Saman || Beautydetour

  • Amazing tips, the AV option has been a miracle to me!! I hateeeeee dark photos with a passion. I also hate filters but brightness adjustment is a must.

  • This is so useful, thank you!

    I’ve always struggled with the photography element of blogging. I don’t enjoy it at all.
    But my flatmate is a digital designer and she gave me some insight into playing with levels and curves. It changed a lot for me!

    I need to learn to use my camera properly, instead of always feeling like I need a new one.

    Shanelle || SLovesAutumn

  • This is such a useful post! Will definitely use these tips & tricks next time and play around with it. Hopefully my photo gets better!

    Nhi Archibald | Life with Nhi Archibald

  • This is so so helpful, thank you! I must admit, I’m a rubbish photographer.. I really needed these tips! Your aesthetic is so dreamy, I love it!