I received a raw file which has overexposed areas. The camera was a Phase One A/S and the photographer said that it would be possible to correct this afterwards. I wonder how/what to fix when the image looks like:

enter image description here

I would like to correct the high exposure in the forehead. I'm most familiar with Corel's Photo Paint.

  • welcome. Can you share the raw file? It's hard to tell if those highlights are gone entirely from a jpg compressed image. Also could you please clarify if Corel Photo Paint is the only available option or if own other photo editing software. – null May 16 '15 at 14:24
  • @null thank you. The raw file is 55Mb, .IIQ. Do you still want it shared? I can download other programs. I supose a trial period is common to most professional programs. – Sergio May 16 '15 at 14:27
  • Isn't it ironic? These medium format cameras cost a fortune and create huge files, yet the "friend" who gave you this image managed to take what seems to be an unsharp overexposed image and is convinced this can be fixed in post. This looks like a textbook example of it's not the camera that makes the image. Yes, please share the image despite its size. Only then can we see if this is fixable or a case of PEBVAN (problem exists between viewfinder and neckstrap) – null May 16 '15 at 14:38
  • @null here is the link will delete this comment and the link later. – Sergio May 16 '15 at 14:45

raw != image

You have to realize that raw files are just data. Interpreting that data in a certain way can lead to images. Each photo editing software will interpret the data differently or even jsut display an embedded jpeg image. That's why the images I have do not look similar to what you have.

I did this with Lightroom 5 very quickly. I explain each setting I applied.


You posted a crop to illustrate the issue. I chose a different crop. Her right eye is at the top and left third of the image (rule of thirds) enter image description here

highlights -90

In general, the first thing to fix is the overall exposure. But in this case, the hair and dress look all right. The face is overly bright. That's why I only reduced the highlights instead of adjusting the exposure in general. The result is a step in the right direction. A lot of the texture of the face is now visible. (only after this step did I notice the piercing)

enter image description here

white +53

More light? Yes! The exposure of the image is correct, but it lacks a bit of punch, i.e. contrast. To add contrast, I added more white until I found the white point. This is the point where the first areas in the image start to be pure white again. In the previous step I took a big step out of the overexposed danger zone and in this step I'm carefully sneaking back.

enter image description here

black -50

This is the black point. It is very similar to the white point, except that you adjust the blacks until parts of the image start to become totally black. I pushed this a little further than the white point, because I wanted to make the background entirely black. The image now looks a lot more vivid, because the contrast is increased. The hair is black again.

enter image description here

local adjustment on the face | highlights -100

The overall image now looks better, but I also added some light back into the overexposed areas. I now used the adjustment brush to locally reduce the brightness of the overexposed areas. The result is that the highlight areas get back a bit more detail and texture. If you want to reduce the brightness even more, pick a lower (darker) white point in the second step. The question is how much you want to recover the overexposed areas.

enter image description here

local adjustment on the face | clarity -40

Making the texture of a face more visible is usually an undesired effect. It is very debatable if, which and how such features of a face should be removed. Every photographer/retoucher will have their own opinion which might vary depending on the client. I reduced clarity to smooth out the face a bit. This is where I stopped editing the image and what I would call the final result.

enter image description here

areas of local adjustment

Depending on your monitor settings and environmental light, the differences introduced in the last two images might be hard to spot. They are more subtle than the thirst ones. I colored the areas that I applied the local adjustments to, to make it more clear.

enter image description here

facing the truth

I do not agree with "we can fix this in post", because

  1. The highlights can only be recovered to a certain extent and the image was very bright to begin with. I could have put more emphasis on recovering the overexposed areas, but that would not create a good overall image. This is a portrait and editing it should not be all about getting rid of the overexposed area that covers pretty much the entire face.
  2. The focus is on the nose, not on the eye(s). Take a look at the following crop to the eye and the nose. You can see that the nose is more in focus than the eye. For portraits, the focus should be on the eye. this is something that you cannot really fix in post. You can try to sharpen the eyes, but it won't be as good as the real thing. enter image description here

The whole point of RAW is that the file contains more dynamic range than is typically rendered in previews or default images. You need to first "develop" the RAW file in any post-processing software that can handle the RAW format to set the exposure. By that process you can correct over- and under-exposure to some degree.

If the highlights are truly blown out then you have to clone or draw to provide the details that weren't captured.

  • You need to first "develop" the RAW file to set the exposure - how do I do that? – Sergio May 16 '15 at 14:29
  • You need a RAW photo editor. I use Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom. Camera manufacturers often offer free bare-bones RAW editors, and there are plenty of other commercial and open-source editors. – feetwet May 16 '15 at 15:02
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    Thank you! Found a program to do it and the image was possible to adjust. Learned something new. – Sergio May 16 '15 at 16:07
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    I don't think this really answers the question. I mean, I know @Sergio checked the accepted button (so I'm not gonna downvote), but I'd like to see a full answer of how to deal with this common situation in post-processing. – mattdm May 16 '15 at 20:40
  • @mattdm -- you always give good answers. Not sure what elaboration applies in this case given that he hadn't picked a software package for processing RAW, but if you write something I'll probably vote for it! – feetwet May 16 '15 at 20:48

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