Step by step tips on how to save those dark and grainy photos.
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.
How to Save Those 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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
What are your top photo editing tips?