How to fix blown out highlights in photoshop

By Ian Middleton

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Recover lost detail in overexposed areas

Have you ever wondered why your buildings in night photography are too bright and lacking in detail? Well it’s because the buildings are overexposed and the detail in the bright parts (the highlights) is blown out. If you want to know how to fix blown out highlights in photoshop, read on…………

Dynamic Range

You may have heard the word “dynamic range” being thrown about in photography. Well essentially it’s like this:

The tonal range (or range of luminosity) of a photo is much lower than our eyes. We can see more detail in a wider tonal range than the camera.

So in a high contrast scene, where the difference between the darkest point and brightest point is very big, we will be able to see the detail in the darkest part and the brightest part, but the camera will not.

The histogram (seen below), a graph representing tonal range and luminosity, illustrates this. You can find it in your camera settings, and while editing.

It shows us the tonal range within the image in graphical form and is a great indicator of whether or not we have exposed our image correctly.

histogram

Shadow         Midtones         Highlights

  1. 0 far left indicates how much shadow detail is present
  2. 255 far right indicates how much highlight detail is present
  3. Midway point indicates how much midtone details is present

You can also think of these as colours:

  • Shadows = Black or dark colours
  • Midtones = Grey or muted colours
  • Highlights = White or bright colours

Anything beyond 255 is completely white with no detail present. Anything below 0 is completely black with no detail present.

The height of each line represents the amount of pixels in your image that contain that tone. So for example, the blue peak show there are lot of pixels around the midtone range.

Clipping:

Notice that on the far right there is a spike. This means that the image to which this histogram belongs has some areas which are completely white with no details. This is known as clipping.

Blown detail on buildings

As you can see by the photos below and histograms, there are large spikes on the left. This indicates that areas of the photo are totally black. Well, given that this is a low key image with lots of shadows and dark parts, this is normal and not a problem. However, on the right is a small spike, which most likely represents the blown out detail on the church.

But fear not, because if you have captured the image in RAW and have processed it to a 16 bit TIFF, then you can work to recover the lost detail, just as long as you haven’t overexposed it too much. While you can push the exposure to the right, there is only so far you can go before it’s no long possible to recover the detail.

The detail is still actually there, it’s just lost among the brightness.

In the photo below you see the church is too bright, and the tiny spike on the far right indicates this:

Jamnik church at dawn in Slovenia

The photo other here I have recovered the lost detail on the church and you can see that on the histogram there is small gap where the spike has moved to the left, representing the recovered detail.

Jamnik church at dawn in Slovenia

Watch my video

So sit back and watch my short video showing two great ways to recover the detail in areas like this. It’s not long, so you won’t need a cup of tea. Although you can get one if you want.

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SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER AND GET
25% OFF MY PRINTS & A FREE EBOOK

Subscribe and receive my regular newsletter to get the latest information about my workshops, new tutorials, videos, new photos and more.

All new subscribers get an exclusive 25% discount code off prints of my photos from my online shop plus a free download of my ebook: A Practical Guide to Photography. Code and download link will be emailed to you upon successful signup

I don’t spam! Read my privacy policy for more info.

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Disclosure:

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