Photoshop Tutorial – How to Make Too Dark Portrait Look Good?

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This time I decided to do little tutorial kind of before and after editing post. After this I feel like I’m horrible photographer but good Photoshop user haha. 😀 Usually my originals are not that bad but I wanted to make this tutorial with pretty awful beginning situation. As you can see below: the before photo is very dark and it’s even hard to recognize the facial expression of my friend. Also I wanted to show you that even though I shoot JPEG (not RAW even though it’s possible with my camera) you are able to make really big changes to exposure and color balance of the picture. All editing is made with Photoshop CC but all similar functions should be found in older Photoshop versions too.


32mm, f/5,6, 1/100, ISO100

Before photo above. The subject is far too dark and there is too much background included. I was shooting outdoors from another ladder, not the easiest thing to do. At first I thought I’m going to delete this one – however I like the face and concept so I decided to try to make it work.

  1. Crop
  2. Auto Levels (cmd+shift+b)
  3. Curves (cmd+m) adding more light and balancing RGB just a little
  4. Adding little more light to face with Dodge tool +5-25% setting depending on your photo (this case I used +25%)
  5. New black layer
  6. Circle selection, erase it transparent
  7. Cancel the selection
  8. Gaussian Blur
  9. Make black layer more transparent. I used 60% with in this photo.


Here is situation after all those nine simple steps. Because the photo was very dark the light and color of his face is not perfect but this photo is now good enough to be used as a memory from Spring Break trip. 🙂

I know that steps 5-7 could be done little differently but steps above are how I usually do this kind of editing. I think it’s easy to remember and ends up pretty nice photos. If you have ideas how to this even more easily or how I could have made this photo even better don’t hesitate to tell your ideas in a comment or message! 🙂

Btw one tip: If you have to choose between underexposure and overexposure choose underexposure because there are usually more you can do to it with Photoshop. If photo is burned to white there is no data in that area and that cannot be fixed with post processing. Whereas in dark areas there is some data as you can see from the example above.

Would you be interested in tutorial with pictures of all the steps or some of them instead of just before & after? Or are you interested in Photoshop tips at all?


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