Sometimes, even the best of us have to deal with underexposed images. Here is a comparison between three popular RAW developing software plus important tips to help us in our quest to recover tough exposure!

Starting point

Bad location or bad lighting can leave us with tough exposures to recover. Fortunately, RAW files can be modified and enhanced with good developing software. With so many of them available on the market, it isn’t always easy to know which one suits best our needs. I got into the game and edited the same image with three different types of software. I chose a picture that had to be lightened, and that also needed more contrast and an extra “wow” effect.

The RAW, flat and underexposed image

Tips: What to look for?

As I read in this great post by Laurie Rubin, no matter what software you are using, here are some main points to look for to successfully edit an underexposed image:

  • White Balance
  • Exposure/Contrast/Highlights/Shadows/Whites/Blacks sliders
  • Selective lightening colors
  • Adding filter effect to specific areas (when available)

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Adobe’s Lightroom Classic is perhaps one of the best-known software for editing, managing and storing photos. Lightroom offers all basic corrections, has a spot removal function and a library to sort and store our images. All of Adobe’s Creative Cloud software is available with a monthly subscription.

Lightroom Classic highlights:

  • Available on multiple devices (desktop, tablet and smartphone)
  • Spot removal tool
  • Library to manage images
  • Batch processing
  • Built-in sharing export to social media (Facebook, Flickr, Adobe Stock, SmugMug …)

For this image, I did a classic basic edit: I bumped up the exposure, highlights, whites and clarity. I enabled the lens correction profile as well, which gave me a pretty good result. I didn’t play with the HSL but I could’ve lightened the red and oranges to brighten the athlete’s skin. Here is the Before/After result:

Skylum’s Luminar 3

Skylum’s Luminar 3 is a two-in-one image editor and a photo library. They incorporated great Artificial Intelligence (AI) filters to enhance automatically our images like the Accent AI (called the “smartest single slider in the world”) and the AI Sky Enhancer. They also offer an exclusive Sunrays filter, 60+ instant LOOKs and 100+ features. You can click this link to purchase it or get a free trial.

Luminar 3 highlights:

  • Works both as stand-alone and as a plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom
  • Clone & Stamp tool
  • Erase tool
  • 60+ LOOKs (default styles)
  • Allows the combination of several photos together
  • Library to manage images
  • Layers, masks, filters and brushes
  • Batch processing
  • Built-in sharing export to social media (Twitter, Facebook, SmugMug, Flickr …)
  • But it and own it software (no monthly subscription)

For this image, I first entered the same basic editing values as I did in Lightroom to compare equivalent results. I then took it a step further, adding and playing with multiple layers, painting structure on specific areas and adding a pretty cool LOOK to make it even more personalized. I really loved the end result of this creating editing. Here is the Before/After progression result:

Photolemur 3

Photolemur 3 is powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) — it analyzes and improves images automatically. Drag and drop the images in the app, let it find the best exposure by itself and export the end result wherever you want. You can choose between a couple different functions and styles but basically, it’s a very straight forward app for a no-brainer edit. It’s perfect for when you don’t have the time to spend more than three seconds on editing an image.

You can have a look at the short video below to see it in action. I have yet to know if the “Lemur” is supposed to be the app (because everybody loves them) or its user (because we could hibernate while it’s processing) — but I’m fine with both answers.

Photolemur 3 highlights:

  • One-click app
  • Fast and efficient AI technology
  • Extremely simple
  • Batch processing
  • Buy it and own it app (no monthly subscription)

For this image, all I did was drag-and-drop the raw file into the app and click one button. It took me at the most 2 minutes. Here is the Before/After result:

Wrapping it up

I just explored three different editing software that fulfills three different purposes:

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Great to import, organize, develop and manage RAW files with a light processing requirement. The freedom to work from a computer or on the go from a tablet or a smartphone is a huge advantage on the go. Adobe’s reputation is second to none and is a long time reference in the photography world.

Skylum Luminar 3

Allows very simple to very complex editing — including advanced photo retouching, layer, masks, brushes and photomontage — in a user-friendly workspace. Can be used directly on the stand-alone version or added it seamlessly as a plug-in to a Lightroom and Photoshop workflow.

Photolemur 3

A very (VERY!) fast editing solution. You drag-and-drop as many images as you like, the AI works its magic and you’re good to export a few seconds later. It’s a one-click solution for no-brainer editing.

There is no ultimate solution. Some photographers like to use a single software they are very familiar with, some other (like myself) like to combine different ones depending on their needs, time availability and creative mood. No matter what our personal preference is, just like a camera, the most effective tool is the one you are comfortable working with!