Brighten Portraits in 2 Minutes in Photoshop

On this video tutorial, Aaron Nace from Phlearn demonstrates how to brighten a portrait using and in the process also correct skin tones and colors using Photoshop.

We really love the shadows slider in camera RAW in Photoshop but Nace actually shows a more advanced tool in Photoshop itself that has more control and is found under Image>Adjustments>Shadows/Highlights (you might want to do this on a new layer – CTRL or CMD + J of your image). Nace suggests adjusting the sliders for Amount, Tone, and Radius until you get an exposure that you think looks good.  This should help you fix the under-exposure parts of the image.

Now you need to fix the contrast and saturation parts. Nace uses the Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves. In the Curves dialogue, he drags the center of the line up until he gets punchy highlights without being blown out. Now you want to invert the layer by clicking on the Layer Mask for the Curves Adjustment Layer and hitting CTRL or CMD + I. Now use the Brush Tool (using a soft brush with a flow of about 60%), to paint white over your subject to reveal the effects of the Curves Adjustment Layer (we would also look at Nace’s original post for more on this – here).

If you also feel that the image is not saturated enough for your taste what you can do is go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation and bring the saturation up slightly (Nace suggest about 7 or so). Finally, go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Selective Color. This method should allow us to target only her skin tone if this is what you want to change.

This is not the first time we are looking at how to brighten a somewhat dark image using Photoshop. A while back we published a video by photoshop expert Howard Pinsky on this very subject entitled “Quick Ways to Brighten Up Dark Images in Photoshop” which you might also want to look at.

You can find many more Photoshop video tutorials on LensVid’s Photoshop section (and you can find a lot more Phlearn videos on our special Phlearn subsection).

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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