How to Brighten a Photo in Camera Raw

  • Thread starter CaptainDan
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May 9, 2021
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No matter how much preparation you put into your shot, you're most likely going to need to do a little post-processing to get it just right. As much as I'd love to say that you can sit and tinker with your camera settings to make everything perfect, it's just not the case. I've taken what I thought were excellent photographs that still needed to be touched in post-processing. So get used to that fact. We all have to do it. It's practically unavoidable if you want your photos to be taken seriously.

When you shoot for print, there's a much more nuanced approach to post-processing. Printing images is a demanding craft and when adjusting them, a lot of focus will need to be put on the histograms in whatever application you're using. Because editing for print is such a complex beast, I'll save that for a post unto itself. For now, I'll merely discuss what's necessary to brighten an image for use on the web. And hey, you never know. You may get lucky and edit your photo for the web and it might print out just wonderfully. This is exactly what I experienced with a picture I've got hanging on my wall right now.

For today's editing, I'll be using Adobe Camera Raw. This is the go-to application for editing photographs. You can do much of what I'll cover today inside of Photoshop, but I feel that Camera Raw is much more elegant. And for some reason, after editing in Camera Raw, my pictures just look better than if I had done the same thing in Photoshop. It's weird, I know.

The best part is, every change I make today will occur in one panel inside of Camera Raw. I'll simply post the before shot, the changes I made in the Basic panel, and then the after shot. Here goes. Here's the before shot right out of the camera.


Now, I'll open Camera Raw and expand the Basic panel if it's not already expanded. The trick here is to only make adjustments that keep the photo looking better, yet still realistic. I'm sure you've seen over-edited pictures floating around out there. They look terrible. So the ratios of the adjustments in comparison to one another that are made in these types of post-processing applications is important.

When I brighten an image, I like to start off with the sliders that will actually do that brightening I'm after. So, in this case, I pushed the Highlights slider to +50% and Whites to +50%. This was good for me, but when you adjust your own shots, you'll likely need to go just far enough until it looks good. Don't take these numbers as if they're etched in concrete. All situations will differ.

After I pushed those two sliders, I pushed Shadows to +80. This is a huge aspect of editing an image and I almost always use it. It turns previously very dark areas into wonderfully detailed ones. The thing is, when shadows are increased, so is a sort of washed out look. To compensate for that, in this case, I increased the overall contrast of the image by pushing the Contrast slider to +30. That seemed to do the trick.

Finally, I added some additional color to the image because color always brightens things. I pushed the Vibrance slider to +40 and things looked great. Here's a screen capture of my Basic slider in Camera Raw.


And here's the final image. I could have gone further, but my only goal was to brighten it. I think I achieved that goal.


If you have any questions about this post, please let me know. I'd be happy to help you out.