For when your pictures are coming out gloomier than you’d like, and you want to brighten dark photos up.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All of these are great ways to easily brighten dark photos, but…
…using them in conjunction with one another is the best way.
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