I have been trying to remove these annoying white stripes, but it seems each time I do, the picture gets worse. I tried some free online apps, but it doesn't seem to work. Sadly, I do not have the raw file.
I agree with Tetsujin. The highlights in the image you posted are blown out to pure white. Since you do not have the raw file, there is no information to recover.
It is possible to use collage and cloning techniques to fill in the missing detail, but it would be time consuming and likely not worthwhile, especially if you can retake the image.
You can avoid this problem in the future:
- Reduce contrast with sheer curtains, reflectors, artificial lighting, etc.
- Save raw+jpg, so you can recover highlights/shadows from the raw.
- Use dynamic range expansion options in camera.
- Reduce exposure so that highlights aren't blown. It's easier to recover shadows than highlights.
- Bracket shots.
If you don't have the raw file, this is not going to be possible.
From comments - it's not so much that having the RAW would guarantee rescue, rather that having only a tiny jpg gives you zero chance.
BTW, this image is littered round the interweb, no clear source.
The stripes are pretty much data-less, all within a point or two of being literally pure white. No matter how much you reduce the exposure in those areas, there's no data to recover.
I've hit this section hard to show you what happens when you try…
That's all the data that exists in those sections. Nowhere near enough to work with.
Clone stamp tool
With enough patience and Photoshop skills, it should be possible to "recover" blown highlights by simply cloning a similar texture from another part of the picture, which is correctly exposed. I'm a mediocre Photoshopper, and here's what I achieved in 5 minutes with the Clone Stamp Tool. Please don't laugh too hard at the bra or hair:
Compared to the original:
Using a layer with Darken blend mode and Opacity set at 90% helped a bit.
Someone who doesn't suck at Photoshop should be able to get decent results.
Compress the tonal range
As others have said, the areas in question have lost most of their data, so there is no way to recovery what has been lost.
The only way to repair the image at this stage is to recreate the data either from the start (i.e. take the photo again), or approximate what should be their using the surrounding data as a reference. The former is not possible in this case, the latter requires a lot of patience and is effectively akin to digital painting.
For small areas photo editing softwares will have various forms of spot removal, and airbrushing tools to try to patch things up, but for larger areas the data has to be created from scratch.
Out of pure bordem with the current lockdown situation, I've spend a little while (20-30 minutes) having a go at trying to recreate some of the lost data using a mixture of Photoshops healing brush, and some copying of data from other sections of the photo.
For areas like skin this is relatively easy, especially on a low-res image. For hair it is incredibly difficult and time consuming so I gave up after a little while as is obvious.