How to correct an underexposed image
Images that were underexposed can be corrected in Photoshop in many ways. You can use Curves, Levels, Shadows & Highlights, but my favorite method is using the image itself and a special blend mode. It’s a method that usually works well, is very quick and simple to do and does not cause blown highlights. Here’s how you do this.
Make a copy of the image in a new layer by dragging the background layer onto the New Layer icon in the Layers panel. Set the Blend Mode of the new layer to ‘Screen’. This will brighten up your image considerably and often this is all you need to do.
The only problem that could happen is that your highlights (like the waves) will now be blown out. That occurs with those images where the overall image is underexposed, but the highlights are still very bright or even completely correct. You can solve this easily however. Double-click next to the icon of the new layer in the Layer panel, to bring up the Blending Options. Move the right slider of ‘Blend if’ to the left, until you see that the blown highlights disappear.
The highlights are now corrected, but the correction is too abrupt. You will see strange banding in the image. You can solve this by making this blending go gradually. Hold down the ALT-key and drag the right half of the slider back to the right. Move it to about 230. This will make a smooth transition between the highlight areas. Is the image so severely underexposed that this correction is not enough? Just copy the new layer one more time!
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