Alibony Lessons for Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Digital Photography

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Photoshop Elements: Save a Washed-Out Photo

Adobe® Photoshop® Elements 6

June 10, 2008

Not all photos are winners, as we well know. If you have the perfect photo that seems ruined by being washed-out (overexposed), you can still turn it into a potential winner. In this lesson, we start with a seriously overexposed photo with a washed-out sky. We will use the Multiply blend mode to bring back the vibrant color and replace the white sky with a nice blue sky.

Before After
Before After

To save a washed-out photo:

  1. Open the photo you want to fix and a photo that contains blue sky to replace the sky in the washed-out photo.
  2. Press Ctrl+J to duplicate the washed-out photo on a new layer.
  3. Change the blend mode of the copy to Multiply. The Multiply blend mode darkens the image on the layer below and works well to bring out the colors that were washed out.
  4. If the photo is still too washed-out, press Ctrl+J to duplicate the copied layer with the Multiply blend mode. Continue to add new Multiply mode layers as needed.
  5. If an application of the Multiply mode appears too dark, lower the opacity of the Multiply mode layer as desired. In this example, we used two Multiply mode layers, with the opacity of the top layer reduced to 50%.

    Fixing a washed-out image
  6. To work on replacing the washed-out sky with a blue sky, create a layer mask:

    1. Create a new Levels adjustment layer above the top layer. In the Levels window, do not make any changes and click OK. Notice that the adjustment layer contains a layer mask filled with white.
    2. Drag the photo with the blue sky to your image. A new layer is created above the Levels adjustment layer.
    3. Select the blue sky layer and press Ctrl+G to clip the layer to the layer below. You have created a clipping group that groups the two layers together; the layer mask attached to the adjustment layer now affects the top layer, too. The blue sky image now covers the image below.

      Blue sky image
  7. Paint the mask on the Levels adjustment layer to reveal the sky:

    1. Click the layer mask on the Levels adjustment layer.
    2. Press Ctrl+I (invert) to fill the layer mask with black. The blue sky is now hidden and you can see the image below.
    3. Select the background layer (original photo) to isolate the sky area. Using the Magic Wand tool, select the washed-out sky. If the result includes some unwanted selected areas, use the Lasso tool in Subtract from selection mode to remove unwanted areas from the selection.
    4. With the selection active, click the layer mask on the Levels adjustment layer.
    5. Use the Paint Bucket tool to fill the selection with white and reveal the blue sky. The layer mask will contain white in the sky area and black below.
    6. Press Ctrl+D to remove the selection.
  8. To blend the sky smoothly, add a Gaussian blur to the layer mask:

    1. From the Filter menu, select Blur, then Gaussian Blur.
    2. Set the Gaussian blur to a radius of 3 and click OK.

    3. Gaussian Blur
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Updated on July 31, 2013