Photo Editing Tips: Identifying and Fixing “Poor Lighting”

While inspecting images for iStockphoto, I come across several images with “poor lighting”. I would love to bring up some specific examples to explain what is wrong and how to fix it. Histograms can be a helpful clue to exposure and I highly recommend studying them. Here is one tutorial that I found online that you might find interesting:, you can find more by googling “photography histogram tutorial”.

I exaggerated some of the examples, but you will get the basic idea of what I am trying to explain (please click thumbnails to see bigger images).

(Image to the left) First we will take a look at “Flat Dull Lighting”. Just looking at the image, you can see that the brights are not very bright, and the darks are not very dark. The histogram shows that as well. This can be fixed by changing the”levels” using Photoshop and sliding the right arrow slightly to the left, and the left arrow slightly to the right. If you move it too far, you will end up crushing blacks and blowing out the whites.

*Note for beginner photographers: You might have noticed that point and shoot camera’s have a lot of in camera processing and images can come out fantastic on auto settings (in certain lighting situations). Switching over to a manual DSLR camera can be tough at first! You really have to know what you are doing with the settings and that’s when you can get much better photos than a point & shoot. When shooting RAW files, it does not hold any in-camera processing (contrast, etc) so you will need to do it in an editing program. If you shoot JPEG files, you have the option to set in camera processing, stylizing your images, which you may not need to edit as long as you take the photos with the correct exposure.

This next image (to the right) shows just that… Crushed blacks and blown highlights. Notice that the histogram shoots upward off the chart and off the right side of the histogram. This shows that you have lost detail in your highlights and your image is not properly exposed. As far as the black goes, *sometimes* you can get away with crushing your blacks a little… but it can also look good on your computer and bad when printed, so be careful and think of the designers that will be using your images. Afterall, they are your customers as much as the stock agencies.

The image to the left has better exposure, one that I would use. As you can see by just looking at it, it has a pretty good exposure. You can also see that the histogram does not have a perfect mountain shape, which is also fine. I have not lost any detail in highlights or shadows. Again, if the right side of the histogram shot off the top like the last image above, that would be a good indication that I have lost detail in the highlights. I double checked by opening my levels tool and sliding the arrow all the way to the right. Blown out areas will stay completely white.

*Another Tip: Try to NEVER take images with the attitude that you know you are making errors, and that you will just fix it in Photoshop. You will notice a big improvement in your work if you get everything right when you take the image, including lighting, exposure and composition.

Incorrect white balance can be another reason for a “Poor lighting rejection.  Some shoot more on the warmer side, and some are cooler. Sometimes you can do this on purpose making it a part of your style (a rejection would show you are not doing it well). First of all, you absolutely need a calibrated monitor to view the color of your images correctly. If you are getting a ton of white balance rejections, you may be seeing your images completely different than what they really are. If you want to get correct white balance you can buy a gray card at a photography store, and also ask them how you use it because that is a whole different tutorial, lol.

And last but not least, there is using an on-camera flash. I don’t have any examples, but will update this post once I create some.

I hope that you found this tutorial interesting, and would love to hear your comments. The more I hear the more tutorials I will post! Thanks!!



  1. Thanks for the tutorial! I’ve always just stumbled through photo editing software, so it’s nice to have a little gentle guidance.

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