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How to recover exposure, get rid of noise and stylize an image under 90 seconds

OK, let me be straight. I do sometimes completely screw up my exposure. Here’s what I like to do to fix an image (almost) as fast as I’ve taken it.

Whether it’s because I totally missed the right settings or because the action happened so fast I had to press the shutter NOW before it was gone forever, $h!t does happen to me once in a while. I’ve come up with five brainless steps that take me less than 90 seconds to go from “this is garbage” to the “here’s National Geographic’s next cover” image (and I’m BARELY exaggerating …).

1. Pick your image in need of love (10 seconds)

A RAW file would be the best case scenario. OK, right, the best case scenario would be us NOT having to recover exposure … (you’ve got one point right there). An uncompressed RAW file allows the software to get the most details out of our files — even more with HDR editing software like the one I’ll be using for this demo. You can still do it with jpegs but you’ll be more restricted with the possibilities.

Underexposed image, waterfall
Yes, my very much in need of love RAW image (2 stops underexposed)

2. Import your image into your favorite editing software (20 seconds)

In this case, I did my editing with Aurora HDR 2019. It automatically processes it at the import. The result was already better than my original RAW file but it still needed to be pushed a little further. Here’s the result:

After Aurora’s import automatic HDR processing (with a single image).

3. Recover exposure (15 seconds)

On the top right, there’s my HDR Basic filter. I recovered the exposure up by two stops, enhanced the highlights and the whites as well. I really wanted to make the black silhouette contrast in front of the enlightened waterfall. (By the way, this is my photograph friend Ivan as he was taking long exposures pictures of a very popular waterfall here in Quebec City.)

Here’s the result once I recovered the waterfall exposure as I wanted.

4. Get rid of noise (10 seconds)

Of course, bumping the exposure that much increases noise (that grainy feel also occurs when the ISO is very high). Still on the right, I have an HDR Denoise filter. I increased the “Amount,” Smooth” and “Boost” sliders to get a look that satisfied me. You can move the slider on the image right below to reveal the before/after result. (This comparison is at a 100% crop so you could see better the denoise effect.)

5. Stylize to your liking (20 seconds)

Right under the HDR Denoise filter is the LUT Mapping filter. I went for the one called “Forgotten,” to achieve a very moody look — which I even bumped it from 100 to 150 because I liked it so much. AI’ve put a generous 20 seconds of execution because that’s the time it took me to go over all the LUTs twice to be able to decide which one I wanted to apply. I liked them all.

Here’s the final result!

Let it be our little secret

Come on, be honest and tell me you could’ve guessed this cool image was originally heavily underexposed if I haven’t told you at first. With the right tools and the right file format, there’s isn’t much we can’t accomplish with technology nowadays. I’m not encouraging you to overlook your exposure — NOT AT ALL! I just wanted to let you know, there IS hope if you ever screw things up on a future photoshoot. Of course I know these kinds of things ONLY happen to me … so let’s keep it our little secret OK? ;)

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