If you’re anything like myself, you prefer to not spend a lengthy amount of time recovering an underexposed photo, as you’re limited by time restrictions such as providing photos for a client or uploading them to social media. Because let’s face it…you probably have dozens of images to edit from your most recent vacation, photo shoot or other current event (hopefully not all underexposed, but hey…it’s better to have an underexposed photo than an overexposed one!).
Five of the Topaz plug-ins were used to achieve the final look, taking less than ten minutes to accomplish. Exposure was corrected in Adjust along with tone and micro-contrast enhancements in Clarity. The apparent noise in the background was reduced with the use of DeNoise. In addition to this, the photo was made-over with ReStyle’s color filters and finalized for output with Detail’s sharpening tool.Original photo © Michael Sterling
How to Recover an Underexposed Photo
Here are the steps I took to restore an underexposed photo in less than ten minutes using the Topaz plugins.
DeNoise-> Noise Reduction
It is important to use DeNoise as the beginning of the workflow before making any exposure adjustments, which will only worsen the noise and make it harder to remove later on. The image was taken after sunset with limited light and the camera’s ISO was increased in order to obtain a sharper image. A high ISO can cause your camera to be more sensitive to light, resulting in noise artifacts. With this image the noise is most evident in the background. DeNoise fixed this up with ease.
Since the image is underexposed, I turned the auto brighten preview on so that I could see the noise better. The auto brighten doesn’t actually apply brightening to your image; it is only a visual tool within the program.Auto Brighten Preview Normal – Noticeable Artifacts
I slowly increased the Overall Strength slider until the noise was eliminated in the background. You can also apply a custom created preset starting with the lightest one for either a RAW or JPEG image, and then adjust the sliders accordingly. *Note: raw formats cannot actually be brought into Topaz without converting them first through an editor such as Adobe Camera Raw.After noise removal
The Recover Detail slider was increased just a tad to restore details, followed by the addition of grain back into the image to bring back the appearance of detail without worsening the noise.
Total time: 1 minute
Adjust-> Exposure Adjustment
To enhance the dynamic range of the image and correct the exposure, I expanded the Global Adjustments panel and increased the adaptive exposure and regions sliders. Regions are used to balance the tonal values, disbursing the exposure adjustments throughout the image on a region based scale. A higher region number will increase the amount of disbursement of the adaptive exposure enhancement, adding depth to the image.Before and after exposure Adjustments
Total time: 30 seconds
Clarity-> Selective Contrast Control
To help define the texture in the elephants’ skin, I applied the Fur + Feathers I preset from the Nature Collection. This preset boosts the micro-contrast and small dynamics, which affects the smallest contrast areas in the image.Contrast and Tone Adjustments
Clarity’s advanced technology allows for natural edits which do not result in artifacts or haloing, so the noise was not worsened when I made this corrections in tone levels and selective dynamics. Since noise removal also removes detail, the micro-contrast slider in Clarity helped to bring back the appearance of detail without actually sharpening the image (or any leftover noise).
Total time: 1 minute
ReStyle-> Color Makeover
ReStyle is one of my favorite plug-ins created by Topaz as it allows you to completely transform your image in a click, giving it a stylistic look. With hundreds of effects to choose from, I already knew in advance there were a few presets labeled with ‘Elephant’ in the Nature Collection. From this point I took snapshots (camera icon) of certain presets so that I could later compare and contrast while in grid view mode.Snapshots in Grid View Mode
An important thing to know about ReStyle is that you will often find that the effect looks better with a reduced opacity. When browsing through presets always have in mind that you’ll be able to reduce the opacity and apply blending modes (like Luminosity) if desired.Opacity at 100% versus 50%
I ended up choosing the style ‘Elephant Daze’ and then reduced its opacity to 40%. I then made minor adjustments in overall saturation and temperature.Elephant Daze preset with a reduced opacity
Total time: 3 minutes
Detail-> Output Sharpening
Before conducting output sharpening in Detail, you’ll want to resize your image for output. If you apply sharpening and then resize your image, the sharpening will be pointless and won’t transmit after resized. If uploading to the web (social media, blog, etc.), reduce the image’s size to around 1,000 pixels (on long side) so the upload doesn’t take forever.
To help bring out the skin texture, under the Creative Detail Collection, I applied the Micro Contrast Enhancement I preset.
This however worsened the noise in the background, so I then used the Effect Mask within the program to remove the detail sharpening in specific areas. Since the background is already out of focus, detail enhancements are pointless.Background masked out from detail sharpening
Total time: 2 minutes
Seven and a half minutes later, here’s the final result:If you are new to our software, this might take you longer than ten minutes the first try as you’ll probably want to experiment with the software. I hope that this tutorial helped you become better acquainted with the Topaz plug-ins so that in the future you are able to make haste, yet quality and artistic edits. Most importantly, have fun during the process!
Tweet us your results @topazlabs!