How To Instantly Darken Overexposed Images With Photoshop

How To Instantly Darken Overexposed Images With Photoshop

Written by Steve Patterson. In this tutorial, we'll learn how to instantly darken an overexposed image with Photoshop using a simple adjustment layer and a layer blend mode! I'll be using Photoshop CC here but this tutorial is also compatible with Photoshop CS6. If you're using CS5 or earlier, you'll want to follow along with the original version of this tutorial.

In the previous tutorial, we learned how to brighten underexposed photos using a technique very similar to the one we'll be learning here. Both techniques work by simply adding a Levels adjustment layer above the image and then changing the adjustment layer's blend mode.

As we'll see, when using these methods to correct exposure problems, the only real difference comes down to which blend mode we need. To brighten a dark image, we used the Screen blend mode. This time, to darken an image that's looking too bright, we'll use Photoshop's Multiply blend mode. Let's see how it works!

Here's a photo I shot recently at a local garden shop. Unfortunately, being the mindful person that I am, I forgot that I had previously bumped up the exposure compensation on my camera for an earlier shot, resulting in an image that's overexposed:

An overexposed photo of a flower. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
The original, overexposed image. © Steve Patterson.

If you've already read through the previous Instantly Brighten Underexposed Images tutorial, most of what we'll be covering here will seem familiar to you. But rather than brightening this image even more, let's learn how we can use the same basic technique to darken it. Let's get started!

This tutorial is part of our Photo Editing and Retouching collection.

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Step 1: Add A Levels Adjustment Layer

With the image newly opened in Photoshop, if we take a quick look in our Layers panel, we find the image sitting on the Background layer, currently the only layer in the document:

The Layers panel showing the image on the Background layer. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
The Layers panel showing the image on the Background layer.

To darken the image, we'll use a Levels adjustment layer. To add one, click on the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:

Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers panel. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
Clicking the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

Then, choose a Levels adjustment layer from the list that appears:

Choosing a Levels adjustment layer. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
Choosing a Levels adjustment layer.

Nothing will happen yet to the image, but if we look again in the Layers panel, we now see our Levels adjustment layer, named "Levels 1", sitting above the image on the Background layer:

The Layers panel showing the adjustment layer above the image. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
The Layers panel showing the adjustment layer above the image.

Step 2: Change The Adjustment Layer's Blend Mode To "Multiply"

The controls and options for the Levels adjustment layer appear in Photoshop's Properties panel. But for this technique, we won't need to use them. Instead, to darken the image, all we need to do is change the blend mode for the Levels adjustment layer.

You'll find the Blend Mode option in the upper left of the Layers panel. By default, it's set to Normal. Click on the word "Normal" and change the blend mode to Multiply:

Changing the blend mode of the adjustment layer to Multiply. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
Changing the blend mode of the adjustment layer to "Multiply".

Multiply is one of several layer blend modes in Photoshop that darken an image, and simply by changing the blend mode of the adjustment layer to Multiply, the photo now appears darker, with more detail visible in the highlights and colors now looking richer and more saturated:

The Multiply blend mode instantly darkens the image. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
The Multiply blend mode instantly darkens the image.

To help see the difference, I've zoomed in on the flower for a side-by-side comparison. The original, overexposed version is on the left; the darkened version is on the right:

A comparison of the original and darkened versions. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
A comparison of the original (left) and darkened (right) versions.

Step 3: Lower The Opacity Of The Adjustment Layer

If, after changing the blend mode to Multiply, you find that your photo is now looking too dark, we can easily bring back some of the original brightness. All we need to do is lower the opacity of the Levels adjustment layer. You'll find the Opacity option in the upper right of the Layers panel, directly across from the Blend Mode option.

By default, the opacity value is set to 100%. Keep an eye on your image as you lower the opacity. The more you lower it, the more the original image on the Background layer will show through the adjustment layer. I'll lower mine down to 60%:

Lowering the opacity of the adjustment layer to fine-tune the brightness. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
Lowering the opacity of the adjustment layer to fine-tune the brightness.

Before And After

To compare the result with your original image, click on the Levels adjustment layer's visibility icon (the eyeball) in the Layers panel to temporarily turn the adjustment layer off:

Clicking the visibility icon for the Levels adjustment layer. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
Turning the adjustment layer off.

With the adjustment layer turned off, we see our original, overexposed image:

The original image is once again visible in the document. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
Viewing the original image for comparison.

To compare that with the edited version, click once again on the adjustment layer's visibility icon (the empty box) to turn the adjustment layer back on:

Turning the adjustment layer back on in the document. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
Turning the adjustment layer on.

And here, with the Levels adjustment back on and the opacity lowered to 60%, is my final result:

Instantly darken an overexposed image with Photoshop. Image © 2017 Photoshop Essentials.com
The final result.

And there we have it! As we learned in this tutorial and in the previous tutorial, Photoshop makes it easy to fix minor exposure problems simply by adding a Levels adjustment layer above our image and changing its blend mode. Use the Screen blend mode to brighten underexposed images, or use the Multiply blend mode to darken overexposed images!

While this technique works great with casual, everyday photos, it won't give you the kind of professional-level results you'll want for more important images. For that, a great place to start is by learning how to use the full power of a Levels image adjustment to properly fix tonal problems, boost contrast and really make your images pop!

Be sure to check out our Photo Retouching section for more Photoshop image editing tutorials! And don't forget, all of our tutorials are available for download as convenient, high quality PDFs!