This photo was taken many years ago onto film, and I just imported it off the CD.

I would like to reduce the bright, white overexposure of the people in the foreground.

The best I have done is this:

With these settings:

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You don't happen to have the negative, do you? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 18, 2016 at 16:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Apparently, I will do somewhere. What could I do with that? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim
    Aug 18, 2016 at 16:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ You can probably do a higher-resolution scan and do some tweaking at that point, giving you more data to work with than you probably got from the store's scan years ago. The answer I've given below still applies, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 18, 2016 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Okay, thank you! Would I just send that off to a company who develop films? \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim
    Aug 18, 2016 at 17:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you have a local camera shop still, they can likely do a high-res scan. Otherwise, yeah, send it somewhere. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 18, 2016 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


The problem with this image isn't general overexposure. It's that a cheap on-camera flash was used, pointed directly at the subject. The camera's auto-exposure program did a fine job of exposing most of the scene — the bookshelf and fireplace look fine! — but, of course, your main subject got too much light and is washed out.

There's actually a reasonable amount of detail there; not everything is blown out. (Film is genreally awesome in this respect.) You can use a "U shaped curve" to bring down the exposure while retaining detail; something like this:


adjusting to taste. You're trying a linear adjustment, and while that can be fine for small changes, with big changes it tends to, as you see, make everything gray. The U curve lets you pull out more detail.

This results in:

sorta fixed

where your subject looks better, but now the background is awful. It's really hard to fix this with a global adjustment. My suggestion is to carefully mask the subject and apply the curves tool to that only, leaving the background alone. This is tedious, so I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader. (While you're at it, you could also separately treat the shadow/outline cast by the flash on the bookshelf to the left of the woman's face, making it less distracting.) If you have software with intelligent foreground select, that can help, although to get really great results, you'll need to tweak by hand.

While working on salvaging, you may want to try a refocus-based sharpening, as well; that should have pretty good results on the baby's face.


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