What is Underexposure?

Underexposed is a term used in photography to describe an image that has been captured with insufficient light, resulting in a dark or poorly lit photograph. When an image is underexposed, it means that not enough light has reached the camera’s sensor during the exposure process. This lack of light causes the shadows and darker areas of the scene to lose detail and become too dark, leading to reduced visibility and clarity in those parts of the image.

Underexposure can occur in various situations, such as low light conditions, fast shutter speeds, small apertures, low ISO settings, or incorrect exposure settings. Photographers often aim to achieve proper exposure, where the image maintains a balanced distribution of highlights, mid-tones, and shadows to ensure a visually pleasing and well-lit photograph.

How to Fix an Underexposed Image

Fixing an underexposed image can be done through post-processing using image editing software like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, GIMP, or other similar tools. While it’s best to strive for a well-exposed image during the actual photography process, you can still salvage some details and improve the overall appearance of an underexposed photo.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

1. Adjust Exposure and Brightness

Use the exposure or brightness sliders in your editing software to increase the overall exposure of the image. This will brighten up the entire photo, making it less dark.

2. Adjust Shadows and Blacks

Increase the shadows and blacks sliders to bring out details in the darker areas of the image. This will help to restore some of the lost information in the underexposed regions.

3. Use Curves or Levels

Utilize curves or levels adjustments to fine-tune the exposure and tonal range. By adjusting the curve or levels, you can control the brightness and contrast of different parts of the image more precisely.

4. Increase Contrast

Increasing the contrast can add more separation between the tones in the image, making it look less flat and more visually appealing.

5. Use Shadow/Highlight Adjustment

Some editing software has a shadow/highlight adjustment tool that can help in recovering details from the shadows without affecting the highlights too much. Experiment with this tool to see if it improves the image.

6. Graduated Filter or Adjustment Brush

If the underexposure is localized in specific areas of the photo, you can use a graduated filter or adjustment brush to target and brighten only those regions.

7. Avoid Over-Processing

Be cautious not to over-process the image, as excessive adjustments can introduce noise, artifacts, or make the photo look unnatural.

8. Use Noise Reduction (if needed)

Increasing the exposure of an underexposed image can sometimes result in more visible noise. Use noise reduction tools in your editing software to minimize unwanted noise while preserving image details.

9. Fine-Tune White Balance

Adjusting the white balance can also have an impact on the overall appearance of the image. Experiment with temperature and tint settings to find the right balance.

10. Save as a New File

Once you are satisfied with the adjustments, save the edited image as a new file, preferably in a lossless format like TIFF or PSD to preserve image quality.

You may also read: Underexposure Vs. Overexposure in Photography


So, understanding the concept of underexposure is fundamental in the world of photography. An underexposed image refers to a photograph captured with insufficient light, resulting in a dark or poorly lit picture. This lack of light leads to reduced detail and visibility in the shadows and darker areas of the image.

To avoid underexposure, photographers must master the principles of exposure. It involves finding the right balance between the camera’s shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings. Achieving proper exposure ensures that the image maintains a harmonious distribution of highlights, mid-tones, and shadows, resulting in well-lit and visually appealing photographs.