How to Fix a Screwed Up Photo with Lightroom Presets & Raw!

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Have you ever screwed up the exposure or white balance of your photo? If you shoot RAW you are in luck!

While you may not want to admit it, every photographer has been there.  Maybe you were shooting manually and forgot to change the settings when you switched locations… Maybe you metered incorrectly?  Maybe you are on auto and your camera guessed wrong?  Or maybe you just messed up! You may have grabbed your camera to snap a shot of your child  – and your choice was change your camera settings and miss it or just click – click – click and worry later.

Read on to learn how to go from the before to the after shown here.

Sound familiar?  No need to answer in case you would be embarrassed.  Seriously, I promise this happens to everyone, including me.  99.9% of the time those photos just get deleted later because I usually catch my mistake as I chimp (check the back of the camera) and readjust.   If you find that you are correcting every photo with strong adjustments to fix mistakes, you may want to revisit your camera, read more, and practice.

But on the off chance you mess up on a rare occasion and need to save an image, here are 3 tips.

  1. Shoot RAW. I cannot say this enough times.  I don’t care if you do.  I will not make you shoot RAW, but on the off chance you need to “fix” bad color or exposure, RAW is by far the best choice.
  2. Use Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. Or another powerful raw editor, like Aperture.  Do not try and “fix” these severe issues in Photoshop or Elements. You need the control of one of these software programs.
  3. Learn about white balance correction and exposure. Gain an understanding of the white balance tools and sliders, exposure, fill light, and recovery sliders in your editing program.

BONUS TIP: For One-click fixes use MCP Quick Click Collection {Lightroom Presets} or {Adobe Camera Raw- ACR Presets}

The other day while in Downtown Detroit, I begged my twins to let me snap a few pictures of them against the mostly torn down building featured in the Chrysler commercials. They  finally gave in, and I snapped this before adjusting my settings.  If I was not demonstrating a point, I would just delete this and use the next one I shot that was exposed correctly and not crooked either…  But… I wanted to show you the power of RAW!

The following image has more things wrong than right.  It is many stops underexposed, you cannot see the subjects, and it is on a horrible angle.  What’s right?  My kids are in it.  I love the backdrop of the 1-sided building, and the sky is decent, but at the expense of the rest of the image.

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So first I tried a color edit.  I did not love it – the sky was blown out from increasing exposure and my other images I took after this one are significantly better.  I only saved it to share here.  When you find a photo extremely underexposed, and you fix it, you get a lot of grain and artifacts.  Lightroom’s noise reduction algorithms are good, but may not work miracles.  Steps: The photo below was cropped.  Then I used Quick Click Collection Presets: “Add 2 Stops” to fix exposure and “Daylight and Sunshine” for white balance. Them I used “Silence the Noise Medium” and “Fill Light Medium.”

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I decided to scratch the color play and try a black and white. My steps using Quick Clicks Collection presets were as follows:  “Add 1-Stop” to adjust exposure, then “Sundae Dish” to convert to black and white.  Next I clicked “Fill Flash Full” as the dark shadows needed to be lightened a lot. Finally I added the ice cream tone “French Vanilla” and  finished with “Silence the Noise Medium.” Besides the cropping, it took five instant clicks to go from the before to the after shown below…

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 How to Fix a Screwed Up Photo with Lightroom Presets & Raw!

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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4 Comments and 0 Replies



  1. 1
    ~marci says:

    Awesome save, Jodi! I heart Lightroom. And just to reiterate, this is wonderful to save an image that can be used for scrapbooking/digital art, small print, etc. but personally I wouldn’t do this with a client image or print it big. That’s when in-camera correct exposure and sharpness are a must for quality prints :-)

  2. 2
    Stacey says:

    That is an amazing difference. I need to explore more noise reduction techniques. The ones I’m familiar with tend to make the photos too soft looking. I think your turned out good though. Did you just use your actions for noise reduction or did you use lightroom’s built in noise reduction?

  3. 3
    Ang says:

    Wow. Just wow. Ridiculously impressive.

  4. 4
    Kalevi says:

    Thanks Jodi

    This gave me new ideas, but could not resist to ask if there was maybe couble of more ideas, how to use Lightroom 4 to correct this very old photo of mine. It has been shot with the old fashion film, but the camera´s back cover has opened and spoiled the film.
    I have been able to fix it a bit and its been there waiting for better days.
    Thanks
    Kalevi



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