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Restore Underexposed Photos in Lightroom Classic


Underexposing an image can turn a beautiful moment into something lackluster. Thankfully if you are shooting RAW the file will have enough data packed inside of it that you will be able to recover those details while you are editing. Landscape photographer Christian Möhrle shares his technique for restoring underexposed images in a new Lightroom Classic tutorial. 

Step #1 

Möhrle starts by changing the color profile to Adobe Landscape. Although changing the profile doesn’t do much for the exposure, it does automatically add some nice colors to the image. From there he makes a few basic adjustments by bringing up the color temperature to warm the image up. Next he brings the image’s exposure up, but by doing so he has to bring down the highlights, to avoid blowing out details in the sky. Then he brings up the shadows and the whites. While making these adjustments he is paying close attention to the histogram to make sure no part of the image is becoming overexposed. He adds a bit of contrast to the image by slightly bringing down the blacks. For his final basic adjustments he increases texture and vibrance. 

Step #2

Once his basic adjustments are made he uses the masking tools to further enhance the underexposed areas of the image. He starts by adding some darkness to the top part of the sky. Because the sky is mostly blue he uses a color range mask to select all the blue-toned areas of the image. To eliminate the bottom half of the image from the mask he uses a linear gradient mask so that the mask will only effect the colors in the sky. Once the sky has been masked he uses the exposure slider to bring the exposure of the sky down. To add a bit of glow to the image he uses a radial gradient mask  that is thin and wide. Once the mask has been added he brings up the blacks and reduces the dehaze slider. He creates a third mask to work on the snowy foreground of the image. He uses another linear gradient to make his selection and then increases texture and clarity to make the foreground pop. Next he uses a brush to subtract areas of the mask so that he can focus on the tree’s shadow. 

Step #3

Color grading comes next. Using the HSL/ Color menu Möhrle increases the saturation of yellow and orange in the image to warm everything up. He reduces the green saturation, while slightly increasing the blue saturation. The combination of adjustments make the sunset colors pop. He uses the color grading tab to do some split toning on the image. He selects a warm hue for the highlights and increases the saturation and selects a cold color tone to target the images midtones. 


Step #4 

To finish editing the once underexposed image, Möhrle sharpens the image in the Details tab. While doing this he is still working with masks to ensure that only the most important parts of the image become sharper.


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