How To Brighten Faces Lost In Shadow (Lightroom Tutorial)

I imagine you’ve come across this more than once: a strong lightsource behind your chosen subject causes your camera to severely underexpose your subject’s face, leaving it far too dark.

Well, with Adobe Lightroom, you can fix this little problem in a few seconds. Yep, it’s that quick, that simple, and that effective. And I’ll show you how to do it in this little Lightroom tutorial. Check out this before and after:

How to use fill light in Adobe Lightroom

The window light behind my friend meant that her face came out all dark; not good. But by using Lightroom’s fantastic ‘Fill Light’ slider, which took all of a second, her face is now all light again – great! I also call this a ‘virtual flash’ technique, because it really is like you took the photo with flash. So, without further ado, here’s how to do it:

First off, I’ll show you a larger version of the ‘before’ photo:

Before using the 'Fill Light' slider

Too dark; not good. So, just open the photo in Lightroom, and choose the ‘Develop’ module (top-right).

Now, see those bunch of sliders across the right of the screen? We want to just use the one that says ‘Fill Light’. Drag that slider to the right, and, voila, your photo will start to look brighter. What’s so great about ‘Fill Light’ rather than, say, the ‘Exposure’ or ‘Brightness’ sliders, is that ‘Fill Light’ works mostly on the slightly darker midtones of your image – it doesn’t affect the brighter parts of your image much at all. If you just upped the ‘Exposure’ or ‘Brightness’ sliders, then ALL of your photo would get brighter, which means you’d run the risk of starting to ‘white-out’ the brighter parts of your image (or ‘blow the highlights’).


As we just want to brighten the part of the image that is – in this case – my friend’s face, we simple move the ‘Fill Light’ slider to the right, until we get our desired result. In this case I moved it across to 51. See the screenshot below:

A Fill Light setting of 51 was good in this example

This literally took a few seconds. Here’s the result:

After using 'Fill Light'. No more shadows, yay!

And a composite ‘Before’ and ‘After’ screenshot below (I love how Lightroom does these before and afters):

Adobe Lightroom 3Using ‘Fill Light’ too much can introduce a bit of digital noise into your image, but this can be very effectively counteracted by using Lightroom’s fantastic ‘Noise Reduction’ sliders, which I’ll go into at a later date. If your image is just for small 6″ x 4″ prints, or web-use, then you really won’t notice noise too much anyway.

Adobe Lightroom is my photo editing software of choice by a long way – I hardly use Photoshop anymore, it’s that good. It’s available from Amazon US or UK if you fancy getting a copy.

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