How to Color-Correct Images in Photoshop CC 2014 Using Camera Raw

Fix underexposed images with this filter

Photographer working in Photoshop

Geber86/E+ / Getty images

Photoshop's Camera Raw filter is far more effective for color-correcting underexposed images than adjustment layers. Here, you'll learn how to use it in conjunction with a smart filter and lens correction to salvage those too-dark images. The processes described here were performed in Photoshop Creative Cloud 2014, but the method is similar in other versions.

Apply Lens Correction

All camera lenses, regardless of cost, distort images. Photoshop recognizes this and helps you remove this distortion.

The image here was shot with a Nikon D200 that came with an AF-S Nikkor 18-200 mm 13556 lens.

  1. With the image selected, choose Filter > Lens Correction.
  2. Making sure the Auto Correction tab is selected, choose the appropriate Camera Make and Lens Model. The image will square off in the corners.
  3. Click OK to accept the change.

If you need to change the camera or the lens, just double-click the Filter to open the Lens Correction dialog box.

Open the Camera Raw Filter Dialog Box

Select Filter > Camera Raw Filter. This opens a rather comprehensive window. Along the top are tools that zoom in on the image, set the white balance, add a graduated filter, and more.

On the right side is a histogram. This graph will indicate that the tonal range of your underexposed image's pixels are clustered on the dark side of the tones. Your strategy is to redistribute them across the range from the left (blacks) to the right (whites.)

Select the Basic tool, which is the default. 

Use the Camera Raw White Balance Tool

The keyword here is balance. This tool uses the neutral gray you pick as the midpoint. Keep clicking the tool until you achieve the result you want. In this image, the foam and snow were sampled a few times to achieve the result. This is also a great tool for removing a color cast

Use the Camera Raw Temperature and Tint Sliders

Think of temperature in terms of “red hot” and “ice cold.” Moving the slider to the right increases yellow, and moving it to the left increases blue. Tint adds green on the left and cyan on the right. Small changes are best; let your eye judge what looks best. 

Add Detail to the Camera Raw Image

  1. Use the sliders under the White Balance area to make global adjustments to the image. Here, the sliders were adjusted to bring up the detail in the foreground. Again, let your eye tell you when to stop.
  2. Keep an eye on the Histogram. You should notice the graph has now spread across the tones.
  3. Click OK to accept the changes.
  4. If you still feel the need to make further adjustments, all you need to do is to double-click the Camera Raw Filter in the Smart Filters layer. You will open the Camera Raw window and the settings will be those where you left off.

To compare the original image against your changes, click the Before/After button. It looks like a "y" in the bottom right corner of the window.