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Adobe never intended the Exposure adjustment to be used on individual images. Instead, the Exposure adjustment was designed specifically to be used with HDR or High Dynamic Range images. But sometimes the Exposure adjustment comes in handy as a quick way to adjust brightness and contrast. If you look at the Histogram for this image, you can see that it's lacking in bright tones. I'm going to add an Exposure adjustment layer, by going to the Adjustments panel Double-clicking its tab, and clicking here on the Exposure icon.
If I Double-click on the Layers tab you can see that I now have an Exposure adjustment layer. I'll Double-click back on the Adjustments tab to show you the three simple sliders that are available for an Exposure adjustment. The Exposure slider here is much like the Exposure slider in the Camera Raw interface. Moving this slider impacts primarily the highlights in the image, and not the dark areas. So if I take this Exposure slider and drag it over to the right, you can see that the bright areas of the image have become brighter, and there are now pixels here in the Histogram in the bright part of the total range.
The next slider is the Offset slider. I usually don't change this slider. What it does is it adjusts the dark areas with little attention to the light areas, but unfortunately, I'll show you what it does, I'm going to drag the Offset slider to the right, and you can see that it just moved the Histogram off to the right, which adds this filmy look over the image, and I really don't like that. So I'm going to go back to the Offset field and I'm going to type in zero to send it to its default. And finally there is a Gamma slider. The Gamma slider adjusts the midpoint of image. So if I drag this to the right, it will make the entire image darker, and if I drag this to the left, it will make the entire image brighter. I'm going to drag it just a bit to the right, and then I'm going to go down to the Eye icon at the bottom of the Adjustments panel, and click there to see a before and after view.
This is how my image started. It was dark and kind of dull, and this is how it is now, brighter, and with the full range of contrast. So if you are looking for a quick way to improve brightness and contrast, you might give the Exposure adjustment a try, even though it wasn't specifically designed for use, on individual images like this one.
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