10 ways to easily brighten up dark photos

10 Easy Ways To Brighten 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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