Join Richard Harrington for an in-depth discussion in this video Recovering exposure, part of After Effects Guru: Repairing and Enhancing Video (2014).
When it comes to exposure, the best thing to do is get it right and expose properly. The second best thing to do, is to slightly underexpose and preserve details. Now of course, if you're shooting RAW video, this is not an issue really. You still have to get in the ballpark with exposure, but you have much more latitude. But with most traditional formats, it can be a bit tricky to pull off the shot. I want to take a couple of shots that are poorly underexposed, in fact, they were underexposed too much, and show you how to bring out the details.
In this first shot, we have a sloth. And the sloth is a happy creature, who likes to hang out in trees and shade. And the challenge here is, he's in a shady tree. I'm going to start by adding a shadow highlight filter, and that does a pretty good job. But instead of using the auto amounts, I'll uncheck that, and what I want to do is pull that in a bit. So, we'll go ahead and define the shadow range. You set the tonal width for what's a shadow.
The wider range you go, the more area affected. In this case, I'm going to take that down a little bit, to about 40. And that means, that the darkest 40% is being treated as a shadow. And that allows me to lift that area up. Now you see that, that's affecting the trees as well a bit, so I'll actually take that tonal width a bit smaller. And now it's just going after his fur. Let's knock the highlights down a little bit, so that the overexposed sky is not quite so bright, and some of the hits on the fur and the tree, pull down a bit.
But you can adjust the tonal width for the highlights to be narrower. All right, if we look at that with the toggle off and on, you see that quite a bit of detail was rescued. But in the process of doing that, you tend to loose a little bit of color, so you can take advantage of the color correction slider to put that back in. One of the other tricks I often use, is duplicating the shot, and setting the duplicate copy into screen mode. That's going to blow up everything, but you can then lower the opacity down a bit, and that's basically an additive way, to put a little bit of a lift back in.
You see that that's doing a gentle lift up on that scene, by blending in the copies. Now that that's looking pretty good, I will apply my adjustment layer, and add on the auto contrast effect, with a little bit of temporal smoothing. Let that snap into play, and you see that, that restored some of the proper contrast in the scene. But at this point, I don't want the focus to be on the brighter edges, so we need to knock that down. You've seen me do this a few times, so it should seem pretty old school at this point, but add a new solid layer.
Sample one of your dark shadowy regions, so it has a little bit of color from the scene. Grab your ellipse tool, double-click, Invert. And then you can go ahead and feather, and what I recommend, is you pull these points in a little bit. So in this case, I'm going to just adjust that. Set this to sort of match the shape, because nobody said it had to be a pure ellipse. There we go. And I matched the general shape of my scene.
Let's take that, switch it on over to multiply mode, so it darkness the areas and lower the opacity. And at this point, all we need to do, is apply a very heavy feather to get that all to blend in together. Now, you see that the green shadows blended in nicely, and because I didn't use black but rather green, it made that vegetation more lush. And darken the edges, guiding your eyes to the center. And remember, if you feel like you're not quite there, you can always move that adjustment layer up for the auto contrast, or perhaps take advantage of something like a LUT.
Now, I'm going to do one more adjustment layer. And for this, we're just going to put that fast blur on; blend that a bit. And at this point, I'm going to decide between lightening the scene with the screen mode, or going a little bit gentler with soft light. That looks pretty good. Let's just back off the opacity a small amount. Take it about half. And that's looking fantastic there, because what it did, is it put a little bit of contrast back into the scene, and it made those shadows pop.
All right for comparison, let's take a look at the before and after. Here it is; before and after. I like the fact that the trees are knocked down. And if that's a little too green, that's okay. You can just go ahead and choose the solid settings. I think its a bit vibrant, and I'm going to knock that down a little bit darker. There we go, that feels better. And so you can always tweak and refine, but we definitely brought our subject out, while not making the background too dominant.
Now, this is a shot that was fairly well-exposed in camera. But what happens if there's a technical problem, and you dramatically underexpose? Well I gave you a hint already, it's blending modes, and let me show you how they work. Here's my shot, and I've already added that into a new comp, so there's what it originally looked like. Here's the updated version. And what we're going to do, is duplicate that. With the duplicated copy, placing it in a mode under the Add category, whether that be Add, Lighten, or Screen, is going to start to combine things and add them up.
Screen worked pretty well there. And I will duplicate that multiple times, and with each duplication what happens, is that the darker values are dropped out, and the brighter values add up. So it looks a lot better. We do have some saturation issues that we want to smooth out. Let's start by putting an adjustment layer on top, just to get rid of some of the noise in the shot, and we'll do a fast blur. And set that to Soft Light. And that picked up a bunch of that noise and lost it.
I'll back that off just a little bit, to maybe 70% opacity to refine it? And that did a nice job. The noise is getting knocked out, but some of the details in the hair are still there. You see that did a good job picking it up. Now, let's just name that layer film look. And what I'm going to do now, is put one more adjustment in, and we're going to take advantage of the Change Color effect. Now, there are two of these effects. One called Change Color, and one called Change to Color. When it comes to these effects, show some restraint.
The one that has more words in it, is the bad one. Change the Color is the Dummies version. It takes one color and maps it to another. You don't want that. Use Change Color, which is basically a simple to use, secondary color corrector. So here we go, Change Color. I will sample on that pink cheek. And let's take a look at the mask. Now as you do that, you have the ability to change the method. So I could say, go after one hue, or one chroma value. RGB's probably right here, but it's just too broad.
So as we dial that in to a smaller number, with a little bit of softness, you can go ahead and get those values. So lets try three, or maybe even two. That's pretty good. And I'll use the Refine Matte effect, and let's smooth that out a bit, and feather. That's good. And up here, we'll now change this back to the corrected layer, and we're just going to pull some of this saturation down.
So with a gentle transform there, I can pick some of that up. Now, you may have to play with the overall tolerance and dial this in. And you don't want to overdo it. But you see, with some gentle transformations, you can go in and pick up some of that splotchiness. And in that case, it did a good job. And nothing says I can't have a second effect. So, I'll just apply that again, Change Color. Select this area here, which is a little bit different, and let's just pull that down. Take a look at the mask real quiick. We'll have less tolerance, more softness. There we go.
And take the saturation down a little bit. Now as you go too far, that's okay, you can actually follow back up after that, with a little bit of vibrance. And remember, you can add some of that color back in. So using saturation here and vibrance, I can control and bring some of that back. And we'll just bring a little more of that back in, and, we've restored some of the color. Now, there's nothing better than shooting it right. But, we were able to rescue quite a bit of footage.
If you look at where it started, to where I took it, we definitely rescued a lot of details. And at this point, all I would recommend, is as you're going in here to this adjustment layer, just play with the overall matching tolerance and dial that in a little bit softer. And you can also go ahead and soften up the Refined Matte effect. But those two working together will help you ease that out.
This course was created and produced by Rich Harrington. We are honored to host this content in our library.
- Reviewing the retoucher's toolbox
- Stabilizing footage
- Fixing alignment
- Retiming footage
- Removing lens distortion
- Using rotoscoping to enhance footage
- Recovering exposure
- Color grading with Photoshop
- Converting to black and white
- Creating a film or painterly look
- Adding depth of field