Fix exposure problems in a batch of photos: The Practicing Photographer

Published by | Thursday, September 12th, 2013

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In last week’s installment of The Practicing Photographer, we joined Ben Long at a wildlife preserve, where he photographed buffalo and prairie dogs—and shared some wildlife photography tips along the way.  This week, it’s back to the buffalo—but this time, they’re on Ben’s computer screen. Something went wrong during Ben’s wildlife shoot: A lot of his photos were slightly overexposed and washed out. Camera light meters aren’t perfect, and when they don’t read a scene accurately, exposure problems result.

Fortunately, Adobe Photoshop—and other imaging programs, such as Lightroom, Aperture, and iPhoto—can often fix exposure problems. And if you shoot using your camera’s raw mode, you have that much more adjustment flexibility. That’s because raw mode saves every bit of data that your camera’s sensor recorded. By comparison, when you shoot in JPEG mode, your camera’s internal software—in its zeal to create a compact image file—throws away roughly one-third of the information that the sensor recorded.

But this week’s installment and this blog post aren’t about the wisdom of shooting in raw mode. Rather, they’re a lesson in using imaging software to rescue improperly exposed images—and in applying the resulting settings to other photos that have similar exposure problems.

Ben opens one of his buffalo photos in Adobe Camera Raw, the raw-processing software included with Photoshop, and then he makes some exposure adjustments to fix the shot. Then things get interesting: With just a few mouse clicks, Ben applies those same settings to an entire collection of photos that he took at the same time and that have the same exposure problem. Just like that, a dozen photos are rescued.

bridge screen

Ben uses the combination of Adobe Bridge and Camera Raw here, but just about every imaging program has features that let you copy one photo’s enhancements to one or more other photos. In Lightroom, choose Photo > Develop Settings to explore commands for copying and pasting adjustments. In iPhoto, use the Copy Adjustments and Paste Adjustments commands in the Edit menu.

So this week, rather than going out and shooting some new photos, Ben offers this assignment: Find photos you’ve already taken that have exposure problems, and use your favorite imaging program to fix them. And if, as is likely, a poorly exposed photo has neighbors with similar problems, try applying the adjustments you’ve made to those other photos. You’ll find this to be a huge time-saver.

Adobe, Lightroom, and Photoshop are registered trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries. Apple, Aperture, and iPhoto are registered trademarks of Apple Inc. in the U.S. and other countries.

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