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How to create an artistic overexposed photograph

How to create an artistic overexposed photograph
overexposed photograph
Overexposed soft photograph by Gabriel M. at

Although some of our photographs may be either overexposed or underexposed, it is well known that the shadows are easier to recover from an underexposed photograph than to recover the highlights

Highlights are burned into the image sensor and cannot be recovered if the image is overexposed

This makes the photo to be unusable. Not really, right?

Depending on your scene, composition or elements from a photograph, is possible to create a new image where overexposure is highlighted as being artistic

Everything is related more or less to post-processing and the right elements.

The above image may not be the perfect example, but it came first in my mind when I decided to create this post.

Probably those photographs may not be the main choice to sell them, but think about recovering some extra images you already own, maybe to use on social media or share with some friends.

Shall we continue?

How to create an artistic overexposed photograph

Not a long time ago, I created another post called HOW TO TRAIN YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC EYE where I was talking about ways to develop your ability to take better photographs and to frame elements for a better composition.

Have you ever taken by mistake an overexposed photo and you come to realise that the elements framed with the spike of highlights and lack of shadow can lead to creating a new image?

Using your photographic eye, you can focus on taking those types of pictures. Although all the photographers would be saying to right expose all your photos, I say experiment!

I am not saying to overburn the image but to control overexposure on your advantage

overexposed photograph
Controlled overexposure – Photograph taken by Gabriel M.

The elements of an overexposed photograph

To be able to do it in the first place, you need one main element in your composition: A strong source of light.

It can be the sun or the sky in concordance with your subject, it can be anything strong enough to make your histogram highlights spike out.

If you are looking forward to using this technique, it is a good practice to first attempt to shoot an overexposed (controlled overexposure) picture with your camera, rather than post-processing a normally exposed image.

Editing the image is the second part and probably the most important one.

To be able to properly process the photograph, it is highly recommended for you to shoot in RAW and not JPEG. (check our other post UNDERSTANDING JPEG VS RAW for more information)

Post-processing the overexposed photograph in Lightroom

This would be the next step for sure. There are few elements to take in consideration when you are trying to process the photograph in Lightroom.

A simple overexposure may not give you the best results, therefore we will first try to soften the image. This would be ultimately related to your photo composition.

The exposure will probably go up a bit. Try to overexpose the photo not too much but not too less.

Control the highlights and whites to cover the overexposed area enough to give you a soft look.

Decrease the shadows a bit. The photo will still look better with a touch of shadows.

Now let’s try to soften the image by decreasing the clarity as much as you like and slightly the dehaze.

Do not dehaze the image too much or you will over-soften it.

Increase the texture to increase the sharpness of your image around the focus area and the texture in general.

You can also play with vibrance and saturation, and maybe finally with your image temperature.

adobe lightroom - how to control an overexposed photograph

You can proceed further in increasing the sharpening or softening more using the noise reduction slide, or any other settings which can make your photo to look better.

Keep in mind that those settings will apply differently depending on your composition.

overexposed photograph before vs after
Before vs after in Lightroom

In my image, I played also with graduated filter by decreasing the saturation of the first boat to zero (black and white) while the red boat remains red.

This process is called spot or selective colour photograph. How have I done it?

I used the graduated filter across my image, decreasing its saturation to -100.

The area underneath the graduated filter is black and white. Go to Brush and pick Erase or Add

‘Erase’ will add back the colour while the ‘add’ will erase the colour.

Zoom in to 1:1 and carefully work around the edges of your black and white element.

How to create an artistic overexposed photograph

Sweet&Love my camera! Conclusion on an artistic overexposed photograph

Although this way of retouching overexposed photographs or creating an overexposed photo will not always work, it doesn’t cost you anything to try it.

Consider your scene and composition when you are attempting this. You can also take photographs where a sun flare on your lens can give you unexpected results.

Experiment with this. As I’ve said, nothing will cost you and you may be able to take a good overexposed photograph.

Also, don’t forget that you may already have images in your hard drive that can be recovered using this technique.

If you like this post, you can read a few other similar below:

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How to create an artistic overexposed photograph.
Depending on your scene, composition or elements from a photograph, is possible to create a new image where overexposure is highlighted as being artistic
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