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How To Save Those Dark and Grainy Photos!

Step by step tips on how to save dark and grainy photos.

Pro tips for saving dark and grainy photos in Photoshop

Winter is on its way, bringing shorter, darker days. If you’re like me, your home isn’t full of much natural light anyhow. I am always deciding whether or resort to flash or take a dark photo, which will also be grainy. I bought a Lightscoop this fall, and it has helped quite a bit, but sometimes I don’t have it on my camera when I need to take the photo. Sometimes I am photographing an indoor event where I am not allowed to use even a reflected flash. And so, I end up with dark photos like the one you see above.

My best bet with a dark photo like this used to be to lighten it up as much as possible and then make it black and white. Grainy noise does not show up as much in black and white photos, and when it does it feels more tolerable to me somehow. Fortunately, I’ve learned some photo editing tricks that work wonders in terms of  saving dark photos like this! I’m sharing them here today.

Learn How to Fix Dark and Grainy Photos!

These steps only work if you are working in Photoshop RAW. You can open a JPG file in Photoshop raw, and do most of these edits, but  if you haven’t tried shooting in RAW yet, you need to! RAW files save a lot of information that doesn’t get saved in JPEG files. This means that, if you take a photo that is too light or too dark, you can often recover the missing information with a RAW file. With a JPEG file, you don’t have the data you need to save the photo. This tutorial only works because I am editing the RAW file, which I then save as a JPEG file.

Photoshop has, sadly, become pretty expensive, but the best deal I have seen is to buy a full year of Photoshop Creative Cloud and Lightroom prepaid. This way it comes out to about $10 a month. Reasonable if you are actually taking advantage of this powerful photo editing software.

Step 1: Increase the Exposure

Your photo is too dark because the exposure was too low. Raising the exposure in the photo alone will make a huge difference!

LOVE this step by step tutorial for saving dark and grainy photos

Step 2: Check White Balance

Dark photos often have white balance issues. On my camera, they tend to be too warm. Photoshop has an auto white balance feature that will attempt to correct the white balance for you. In my experience, this sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Here, I dropped the image temperature to get something closer to my daughter’s true skin tone.

how to save your dark and grainy photos in photoshop

Step 3: Play with Photo Vibrance

Under-exposed photos can feel a bit flat when you start to play with fixing them. Increasing the vibrance of the photo can bring the subject back to life and add a feeling of more depth to the photo.

step by step tutorial for saving dark and grainy photos

Step 4: Try Enhancing the Whites

Enhancing the whites can brighten a photo without washing it out. This can also make a photo feel more alive.

Don't despair over dark photos! Use this tutorial to save them.

Step 5: Play with Luminance

This is the magic step! Up until now, we have been working under the basic editing tab. Luminance is under the detail tab – two triangles, one in front of the other. I usually only play with the slider directly under the “Noise Reduction” header that says “Luminance.”

See how increasing Luminance eliminates most of the graininess? You have to be careful not to increase it too much, or your subject starts to look blurry.

Those dark and grainy photos can be saved! Check out this tutorial

Step 6: Check Contrast

If Changing Luminance levels has your subject looking TOO dreamy, try going back to the basic tab and increasing contrast a bit. This will bring back a little bit of the noise you eliminated, but it can also make the subject look more realistic. Feel free to skip this step if you prefer the dreamy look.

This was once a dark and grainy photo. Check out how it was transformed via a step by step photo editing tutorial

What are your top photo editing tips?

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MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

8 thoughts on “How To Save Those Dark and Grainy Photos!”

  1. Excellent tips! I adjust my settings in Photoshop (I got a killer deal several years ago when I was a student in a photography class). The nice thing about Photoshop now is that you can open any photo in Camera Raw even if you don’t take it in raw. I like to shoot in raw, but because it takes up so much space on my memory card, sometimes I just shoot in jpeg and then edit it like it’s in raw.

  2. I use Adobe Lightroom as a stand-alone (not cloud) version on my laptop. Since I am a home educator, I was able to buy it for a good discount. :) Then I use presets that fix the photo in one click (but sometimes I play around with it further like you did above). I really like how you explained what the different settings do.

  3. We’ve been using Lightroom and fix our grainy photos just as you described. It has saved us a few of our favorite images. Funny how the most fun I want to capture happens when it’s dark around us (evening reading). Sigh.

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