10 tips on how to get Bright Photos

How to get bright photos, and why? Nowadays, we see more styles in presenting photography on various media. It is most significant on Instagram. There are typical color combinations or bright and even “washed-out” bright photos. Let’s have a look at how to get these bright photos in the following tips.

Shooting for bright photos

Shutter Speed

When shooting any image, you can control the brightness by setting the shutter speed. The bigger the value of the shutter speed, the brighter the photo. Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter remains open. During this time period, the light is reaching the sensor in a digital camera or the film in older cameras. Then logically, the more light reaches the sensor, the brighter is the final image. 

Bright photos before after

So let’s assume we shoot a landscape picture of the mountains, for example. There is a bright sunny day. We will set the lowest possible ISO for noise reduction.

Aperture will be 8 or higher to get the sharpest image along with the whole depth of the field. Now finally, we set the shutter speed to 1/1000 s. Let’s make the first shot. When we check the image, we realized it is a bit dark. So the next step is to increase the shutter speed time. So let’s try 1/500 of the second.

After keeping the ISO and aperture unchanged from the previous shot, make another shot. Now you can see the image is brighter. And this is the whole principle.

Of course, you can go even further and try to set 1/250 of second and check whether it is not too much and if the result you’re not getting isn’t a too bright photo.

Aperture

Managing the brightness of a photo is possible also by controlling the Aperture while taking a shot to get the right level of the bright photo. Aperture is one of the most important photographic triangle elements besides ISO and Shutter speed. Here is also important to keep these remaining two elements unchanged (ISO and Shutter speed). 

Aperture number expresses the value of the opening or size of the hole in a lens. Light is coming through this opening and hits the sensor of the film in a camera. Aperture also has an essential role in the depth of field (DOF).

DOF is a critical aspect of the sharpness of the whole image. This has to be taken into consideration when shooting the landscape.

Landscape photographers tend to achieve the high depth of field to get sharp images on the whole photo from the foreground throughout the background. For this purpose, they use lenses with high aperture numbers like 16 or even more. 

Now in the sense of getting bright photos, the aperture has the following meaning. If you choose the values of ISO and Shutter speed, you can manage the brightness by changing the aperture only.

If you start with aperture number 8, your image still has a good depth of field and check whether your photo is bright enough. If not, keep the ISO and shutter speed unchanged and change the aperture to lower value, let’s say go for number 4.

Now you will get the brighter photo. It is because you increased the lens opening for incoming light. If your photo is still not bright enough, go for even lower aperture and set it to 2.8. While constant the ISO and Shutter speed again, of course.

ISO

The third part of the essential settings impacting how bright photos you get is the ISO.

ISO defines the sensitivity of the sensor in the case of Digital cameras or classic film cameras. It is the sensitivity of the film.

So how is ISO affecting how bright photos you get? Let us start again with setting the Aperture and Shutter speed and keep it unchanged for this purpose. Now set your desired ISO to let’s say 100. This is the standard value to keep the noise on a very low level.

Now check how bright is your photo. If it is too dark, increase the ISO number. Try to go for 500. Now check the photo brightness. You can see it is brighter.

ISO for bright photos

On the opposite side, you have the image noise connected with higher ISO values. So you have to be careful and do not increase the ISO to extremely high values.

The amount of noise at the higher ISO values is given by the quality of the camera sensor. In other words, cheap cameras produce noisy images when using even lower ISO values like 1600 or even less.

Top class cameras today can reach ISO values much higher without any noise issues. You can go for ISO 5000 or even higher without any noise presence there.

This is useful mainly in low light photography when you need to achieve bright enough photos.

Editing Tips for bright photos

Let us now speak about possibilities to get bright photos by post-processing or editing already taken photographs. We will focus mainly on Adobe Photoshop. But we will also mention other possibilities if there are some.

Using Levels to get bright photos

Levels in Photoshop is simple and often used method to get control of the photo brightness but also other image parameters.

The main idea here is to move with the appropriate slider to get the more or less brighter photo. It is best to use the middle grey slider and move it to the left side.

Photoshop Levels sliders

If you were using the Highlight slider, the white one you could achieve only bright parts of the photo become even brighter.

But we want to get the brighter look of the whole photo and for that is the grey middle slider better. For more detailed settings, check you have an RGB option selected, not any particular color (red, blue, or green).

I always try to use an adjustment layer, not Image adjustment. The reason is you should use non-destructive editing as much as possible.

Because if you choose Image Adjustment, you edit the image pixels directly, and this kind of change is irreversible. Another advantage of the Level adjustment layer is that you can mask out areas you don’t want to be so bright.

After getting the middle slider to the right position, you can enhance the final look. Use black (left) and white (right) sliders to increase contrast by enhancing the blacks and highlights. 

Levels adjustments are available not only in Photoshop but also in Lightroom and also in most of the editing apps as on desktop as well as on mobile.

Editing with Curves

Curves get similar functionality like the Levels but allow you to make more precise settings. 

Add a new Curves Adjustment Layer.

Curves Adjustment Layer

Click on the default curve to create an editing point. In the beginning, the default shape you will see is a straight line. Then click and drag the point vertically up, and you’ll start to see the photo is brighter.

Curves drag up

You can even click more times and create more editing points. It will allow you to customize the curve in even greater detail. 

The excellent and easy way is to use a little hand icon. Click on it to activate and then click to a part of the image you want to change. Drag the mouse up to edit the curve and get a bright photo.

Photoshop curves hand tool

If you want to make some creative changes, not only to get a more bright photo use other channels. For example, regarding the color toning, you can switch from RGB to a particular color channel. And then to modify the curve in this mode.

In case you are not satisfied with the result, you can always reset the curve. Uthe small back arrow icon “Reset to adjustment defaults.”

Photoshop Curves Reset

Getting a bright photo by editing the image curve is also available in most editing apps, not only in Photoshop.

Shadows  / Highlights method to get bright photos

This method is a so-called destructive method because it can be applied only to a pixel layer. But you can always make a copy of the actual layer. So you can be safe and return back in the case of any unwanted results. 

You can also use the History panel and get back to the point before the editing started.

Shadows/Highlights method for getting the bright photo works best if you want to increase the brightness, especially in shadows.

To start go to Image->Adjustment-> Shadows/Highlights. There will an interactive setting panel appear.

Shadows-Highlights-1

As we start this adjustment, there is a default setting. Photoshop itself gives this after an automatic analysis of the whole photo. 

To achieve Bright photo, we will mainly use Amount and Tone sliders in the Shadows section. And for final fine-tuning, we go to the Adjustment section and move with the Midtone slider.

Shadows-Highlights-settings

Do not forget to have the Preview checked to see the changes you make immediately. 

After you reach the desired bright photo, click the OK button, and it will save it. Also, be sure you clicked Show more options at the beginning of the edit.

HDR Toning

This is an unusual, not very usual way how to get bright photos. As in the previous case, we have to mention, this is also a destructive type of photo editing. Even more - the very first step will be flattening the image. So you have to be sure you saved your work before applying the effect. 

HDR-toning-for-bright-photos

Go to Image->Adjustments->HDR Toning. After that, you’ll see the setting dialogue. There is a default setting applied automatically.

HDR-toning-settings

Here is an important point: each slider or setting should be moved or changed very subtly and carefully. To get a bright photo, we will use mainly these settings:

Start with Exposure and move to the right to increase the exposure and, therefore, the brightness as well. Many times it is enough to get the default settings, and you already have bright enough photos.

Then tune up the Detail slider. This is the advantage of HDR toning to get nice details in the whole image. Slightly move with the slider and get the required contrast in the edges.

After that, you can enhance the Shadows, Highlights, and Vibrance. I never increase the saturation here as there are better ways to do so in Photoshop. 

After you finished the settings, click Ok, and you’re done.

Other apps are able to deal with HDR settings. For example, Aurora HDR.

Bright photos using Apply Image method

Another not very often used method of how to get bright photos is Apply Image. It is a universal method also for other effects, but we can use it also for getting bright photos.

It is again a method or effect that applies only to a pixel layer, so in other words, it is a destructive method, not like an adjustment layer. So you should make a copy of your current pixel layer.

Apply-Image-method

This effect is activated by selecting Image->Apply Image. A dialog box will appear with some default settings.

Apply-Image-settings

To reach the brighter photo, you go directly to the Blending parameter and set it to Screen mode. Then check the result if it is too bright decrease the percentage of Opacity. If it is not enough, bright

repeat the whole process and make the Apply image effect again.

Now it could be handy to decrease the Opacity parameter as the second Apply image effect might not be so strong.

Of course, you can play around with other blending modes, but Screen is getting quick and satisfying results.

This method is available only in Photoshop, or at least I did not see it in other apps so far.

Camera Raw Filter

Photoshop users use Camera Raw Filter quite often. It is a universal and powerful set of filters. It is taken from the Camera Raw, and practically the same effects can also be applied in Photoshop. IT is again a filter applicable only to the pixel layer. Camera Raw filter is also very similar to Develop module from Adobe Lightroom. 

Camera Raw is a multi-usage filter set. In our case, we will describe the usage of how to control and get bright photos.

Camera-Raw-for-bright-photos

To activate, go to Filter -> Camera Raw Filter. Then the known menu will appear. To get bright photos, we can use more options here. 

Camera-Raw-for-bright-photos

Let’s start with the Exposure slider. Move the slider to the right to increase the photo brightness of the whole image. 

For a more detailed setting, use the Shadows slider. Move it to the right to increase brightness only in darkest parts/shadows. Use it with a combination of Highlights to control the most bright parts of the image. Many time is an excellent approach to increase the Shadows parameter and decrease a little bit the Highlights to get a more flat looking picture. This kind of look you can see as a specific style on Instagram. 

It can be achieved by decreasing the contrast as well. Be careful here because the lack of contrast is not looking good on the other hand.

For a final tune-up, use Blacks and Whites sliders.

Lightroom Presets for bright photos

Finally, we have to mention one of the simplest but powerful methods of how to get bright photos. It is using Adobe Lightroom presets. Presets are available as for Lightroom Classic as well as for Lightroom mobile. The application is simple. You open the image in Lightroom, choose the appropriate preset for increasing the brightness, click it, and you have the result immediately. 

Of course, it is essential to make the tunning of Lightroom parameters afterward. Please read the related article on how to install Lightroom presets for Lightroom Classic or Lightroom mobile.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are several methods of how to achieve a bright photo look. It can be done in the phase of taking the picture by the camera settings. And there are many approaches to how to get bright photos in postprocessing. We mainly described the Photoshop effects but also mentioned other apps. 

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  1. Course

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  2. Polish Guide

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