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Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Adjusting Exposure in Photoshop Elements

What you’ll learn in this Photoshop Elements Tutorial:

  • Understanding exposure
  • Improving faded or overexposed images

This tutorial provides you with a foundation for working with adjusting exposure in Adobe Photoshop Elements. It is the fourth lesson in the Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 Digital Classroom book.

Photoshop Elements Tutorial: Adjusting Exposure in Photoshop Elements

With Photoshop Elements, you can go beyond the automatic fixes that the program provides and use layers and blending modes to correct your images. You can also use adjustment layers for your changes. When you save the file in the native Photoshop format (.psd), your layers are retained, and none of your changes permanently modifies the image.

Starting up

Within the Photoshop Elements Organizer: You will work with several files from the Lessons folder in this lesson. Make sure that you have downloaded the Lessons folder onto your hard–drive. In order to access these files in the Organizer, you need to import them. See “Adding files and folders to the Organizer” located in Lesson 1.

Within the Photoshop Elements Editor: The Photoshop Elements Editor defaults to the last panel layout that you used. Before starting, make sure your tools and panels are consistent with the examples presented in these lessons by resetting the panel locations. Do this by choosing Window > Reset Panels or pressing the Reset Panels button () at the top of the workspace.

Welcome screen

If you’re currently viewing the welcome screen, press the Edit button () to enter the Editor workspace. If you are currently in the Organizer, press the triangle to the right of the Fix tab and choose Full Photo Edit from the drop-down menu.

Choose Edit from the Photoshop Elements welcome screen.

Understanding exposure

Exposure is a measure of the amount of light allowed to reach the film or CCD (for digital photography) of a camera when a photo is taken. If a digital photo is underexposed, it is too dark; Digital images that are overexposed are too light. In this exercise, you will explore an alternative way of fixing exposure problems in your images.

Exposure adjustments with blending modes

In Lesson 3, “Fixing Common Photographic Problems,” you fixed exposure problems by using the auto-correction features. In this lesson, you will use a different technique to get the same effect. You will first adjust an underexposed image, then you will fix an overexposed image. The edits you make in this lesson will not modify the underlying image.

Improving underexposed images

The first thing to discuss in this lesson is what layers are, and what blending modes are. You will start by learning the difference between Multiply and Screen blending modes.

1 From within the Editor, press the Organizer button () to view the Lessons. If you can’t see the filenames, choose View > Show File Names.

2 Locate and select fishing2.jpg. Press the arrow icon to the right of the Fix tab, then choose Full Photo Edit from the drop-down menu, or use the keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+I (Windows) Command+I (Mac OS).

The fishing image.


Layers are like transparent sheets of clear film stacked on top of one another. When artwork is placed on different layers, it can be moved and edited independently. You can paint on or erase parts of a layer; erasing creates a transparent area where you can see the layers below. The Layers panel allows you to manage layers; from here you can create, lock, and hide them.

1 If the Layers panel is not visible, choose Window > Layers to show the Layers panel.

The Layers panel in Photoshop Elements.

2 Select the layer named Background, Press the panel menu button () at the top right of the panel, and choose Duplicate Layer.

3 The Duplicate Layer dialog box opens. Leave the settings at their defaults and press OK.

The Duplicate Layer dialog box. You should now have two layers.

Blending modes

Blending modes in layers control how pixels in an image are affected by other layers. The common blending modes are Multiply and Screen.

The Multiply blending mode takes a looks at the color information in the layers below the current layer and multiplies the base color (color from the layer beneath) by the blend color (color from the current layer). The result is always a darker image, because multiply loses the white in the image.

The Screen blending mode looks at each layer’s color information and multiplies the inverse of the layers below. The resulting image is always lighter, because the Screen blending mode loses the black of the image.

You are going to apply the Screen blending mode to the Background copy layer to lighten the image.

1 In the Layers panel, make sure the Background copy layer is selected, then change the blending mode from Normal to Screen at the top of the Layers panel. The result is an instantly lighter photo.

The image after applying the Screen blending mode.

To see how this blended layer has affected the image, press the visibility icon () next to the Background copy layer to hide the layer. Press the visibility icon again to show the layer.

2 Choose File > Save. In the Save As dialog box, type fishing2_working in the Name text field and change the format to Photoshop. Press Save.

3 Choose File > Close. If asked to save the changes, press No.

These tutorials are created by and the team of expert instructors at American Graphics Institute.