Bad lighting on a photo? Don’t toss it out just yet. You might still be able to bring it back alive. In this video, I’ll be walking through 9 easy steps to fix a photo with bad lighting in Adobe Lightroom Classic.

For more tutorials from the “Master Your Craft” series, be sure to visit AdoramaTV and check out our playlist!

Video: How to Fix a Photo With Bad Lighting in Post Using Adobe Lightroom

Let me preface this by saying that you should always, always, strive to get the shot right in-camera. This means taking the time to get the right settings and properly lighting your subjects. However, there are many reasons to learn editing techniques to save imperfect images. As photographers, we face countless different scenarios and it’s nearly impossible to get the perfect shot 100% of the time. Understanding what’s possible in post-production can help you still achieve a professional result nonetheless.

Before we dive in, be sure to download the exercise file here and follow along as I edit.

Getting the Image Right In-Camera

fix a photo with bad lighting taking the photo

You can see how this image was shot in a previous video where I talk about why the Canon RF 28-70 f/2 is my favorite lens. Even if the conditions aren’t the best, you want to try and get the best shot that’s possible by:

  1. Shoot in RAW format to capture as much information as possible.
  2. Expose properly to preserve as much detail in the shadows and highlights as possible.
  3. Work with the natural lighting.

Step #1: Raise the Exposure

The first step is to roughly set the exposure to the subject. For imperfectly lit images such as this, it’s okay to let the background blow out. The priority is to make sure the subject is well exposed.

Step #2: Set the White Balance

Use the eyedropper to set the white balance. I selected Kiara’s shirt. Notice the green color cast from the surrounding leaves and grass still persists. We’ll fix that shortly.

Step #3: Base Tone Adjustments

I used the basic tones to make subtle adjustments that brought out more detail in the highlights and shadows.

Step #4: Set the Tone Curve

fix a photo with bad lighting curves

I started off with a basic S-curve to add contrast. Then, I created a matte look by pulling the white point down and black point up.

Step #5: Color Calibration

fix a photo with bad lighting color calibration

The color calibration panel is a great tool to make corrections for unwanted color casts. I focused on restoring the skin tones.

Then, I went back to fine tune the white balance to match the updated colors.

Step #6: HSL Adjustments

fix a photo with bad lighting hsl

This is where we can continue to separate the skin tones and remove the green tint we started out with. Start with the hues and focus on the color. Then move onto saturation and luminosity.

Step #7: Split-Tones

I used the eyedropper tool to select a the shadow hue from a color already in the image. I did the same for the mid-tones and highlights to bring out the skin tones even more.

Step #8: Tweak Your Adjustments

Go ahead and make your final tone adjustments here. I tweaked the basic adjustments to add a touch more contrast.

Step #9: Local Adjustments

Lastly, I added a subtle radial filter from the Visual Flow Retouching Toolkit. This adds a subtle vignette around your subject.

The Final Image

fix a photo with bad lighting final

Let’s see the final image compared to where we first began. The difference is huge!

Bonus – 3 Ways to Fix a Photo in Post

Sometimes we are forced to work with less than superb color, whether it’s muted tones, distracting background objects, or clashing hues – it happens. With these 3 simple tips you can make any photo work and not fall victim to color drab.

Turn it black and white!

We captured great expression but were surrounded by muted tones and distracting background objects. By taking the color out of the image the viewer is more channeled to look at the main subject. Want to see how we can easily change tonal color to black and white? Check out this step-by-step edit here:

Just like when editing in color, we want to make sure we have the right color temperature to make skin tones pop. By lowering the highlights and whites and increasing shadows and blacks we can create more of a mid-tone range to assist in this endeavor. Working in the HSL panel can help help to manipulate the tonal values and look of the black and white image effectively, but just be aware of how it may effect the surrounding areas.

*This will not work if you’ve shot in black and white. The image must be color to begin with.

Utilize the burn tool

The burn tool is a fantastic way to increase exposure to darkened areas of an image. To reduce distractions, draw the viewer into the couple by enabling the radial burn, in which with our burn brush preset we create a subtle vignette. The burn tool can be used to add dimension for a variety of techniques like enhancing features, and you can check out our step-by-step tutorial here.

Create interest with dodging

Likewise, the Dodge tool is a great way to manipulate lightened areas of an image, and a great example of this can be seen in the image above. To create more interest in this photo dodging was done on the reflection of the couple to add dimension to the dark foreground.

By layering these effects we can create soft, seamless transitional edges that won’t distract from the beauty in the portrait.

As such, black and white photos provide the perfect opportunity to dramatically increase sharpness and clarity, and is a great option to keep in mind as a way to bring out the texture and the detail in the clothing. That said, keep in mind how this also affects the skin. By layering our soft skin preset in a mask over our existing edits we have more control over our final image.

To get a more fine-tuned edit, switch over to your brush tool. Not only will you be able to smooth out the facial features, but by toggling Alt/Option you can manipulate the tools apply/erase function to keep features, like hair, eyes, lips, and jewelry, sharp.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this article/video. Next time you take a photo in imperfect conditions, rest assured that you can still fix a photo with bad lighting in post. It’s crucial to learn and understand what you can do in post-production in case these situations arise. That being said, always prioritize getting the shot right in-camera when possible. Before you go, be sure to check out the Complete Lightroom Tutorial on SLR Lounge Premium. In addition, check out Visual Flow for the Retouching Toolkit as well as intuitive, lighting based presets.

Don’t miss our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!