Whether on a person or landscape, we have a few ways to lessen blowout in an overexposed area. Let’s take a look at a few methods.

Unfortunately, once your camera exceeds the highest level of dynamic it can capture, no amount of RAW processing, log profiles, or whatever else your camera has is going to be able to recover that data. Once those highlights are clipped, that’s it. And, usually, it results in a less-than-glamorous image.

However, digitally, we can do a few things to lessen the blow of an overexposed area. Whether on a person or the landscape, let’s take a look at a few methods.

You can find the written transcript beneath. However, I recommend watching the video due to the visual examples presented.


Overexposed Skin

First, let’s look at an issue where there’s an area on the actor’s face that has clipped. If it’s a bright circumstance and you’ve exposed to accommodate for the sunny conditions, you may be in trouble if the sun moves into a better position and pours more of that intensive light onto your actor, as there’s nothing worse than having clipped skin values.

In this sequence from a music video I made several years ago, I foolishly exposed for the actor while he was in the shade instead of his endpoint, which was directly in the sun’s line. When he reaches his end mark, there’s an area on his cheek that’s overexposed. 

Overexposed Skin
Avoid overexposing your subject.

We can limit the number of highlights in this overexposed area to add color to hide the damage somewhat. You do this by following these steps:

Step 1

Bring the highlights down to add saturation to the image. Around 85/90 percent of the white value should be okay. As you can see in the scopes, there’s a straight horizontal line in the highlight region. This represents that some highlights are clipped.

Step 2

Use the qualifier while in the HSL window and make a selection over the area of the blown-out highlights.

Blown-out Highlights
In the HSL window, make a selection over the area of blownout highlights.

Depending on the surrounding colors, you may need to mask the actor. Likewise, it’d be best to finesse the qualification with the HSL matte settings here. The blur radius may be enough to make a solid qualification.

Step 3

Drag the highlight color control wheel to a hue that’s equivalent in color to the area next to the blown-out highlights. You may need to also increase or decrease the patched area’s saturation to blend in better with the surrounding, correctly-exposed skin tones. With this, as seen below, your overexposed area should look a lot better.

Before and After Highlight Fix
Before and after correcting the exposed skin tones.

Blow-out Sky Replacement

In this shot, the camera’s dynamic range wasn’t great. It was also a bright day with lots of contrast. Therefore, I had to expose for the actor, leaving the sky blown out. So, we’re going to replace the sky. However, this isn’t a typical sky replacement where we’re just changing over the clouds or giving it the appearance of a different time of day. We’re adding the sky because there isn’t one visible. This technique requires a sky that has entirely clipped with no visible blue or clouds.

Blown-out Sky
Since there is no visible sky in the image, we need to add one.

Step 1

To begin, choose a photograph of the sky that’s the same size (or larger) than your composition. Make sure that it has the same brightness values as the image. Meaning, in this circumstance, it’d be a little silly to use a shot of the golden hour sky.

Step 2

Now, we’re going to create a new composition, and then bring both files into your timeline and place the sky beneath the video file.

As this is just a solid layer of white, we’re going to key it out like a green screen. Therefore, add the Luma Key effect to the video file and change the key type to Key Out Brighter. You want to increase the threshold until your image returns with the sky picture in the background. The threshold will be different with every clip. For my shot, 250 is perfect.

Replacing the Sky
Remove the thin, white line from the edges by adding the Refine Soft Matte effect. Image of the sky via Glitterstudio.

Step 3

Unfortunately, we’re now left with a thin, white line around some of the edges in our image. Not great. However, it’s a simple fix. We’re going to add the Refine Soft Matte effect to the video layer. This by itself may be enough for some people.

However, in shots like mine that include foliage, you’ll need to play around with the settings to refine the effect. The settings you’ll need to adjust, depending on your footage, are contrast, shift edge, and decontamination amount. If necessary, you can also change the Edge Feather setting on the Luma Key effect in the video file.

Step 4

And, of course, before export or giving the image an overall grade, adjust the sky’s brightness, saturation, or lightness to match the video.

Adjust Settings
Now, adjust the brightness, saturation, and lightness. Image of the sky via Glitterstudio.

This bandaid fix is going to work a lot better with fewer elements moving through the composition.


Overexposed Lights

Admittedly, the final technique falls more on the lines of creative application as it alters the properties of the entire image and not just the highlights. However, I find it works wonders if you happen to have a hot light.

First, we’re going to add a haze around the light so it isn’t as eye-catching. This also mimics the effect of a pro mist filter.

Add Haze
Begin by adding haze around the light.

Step 1

Lower the highlights back into legal values, then add a layer node. On the bottom node, add a Gaussian blur and increase the intensity quite dramatically (see video).

Step 2

Go to the layer mixer and change the composite type to screen. You’ll find that the entire image has a haze to it. Unless you’re creating a 1920s period piece, this likely isn’t the effect you’re going for.

Lowering Shadows and Midtones
With the entire image affected, you’ll want to lower the shadows and midtones region.

Step 3

To fix this, select the node with the blur effect, and swap to the curves panel, if not already active. Then, lower the shadows and midtones region until you get to a place where the haze is only situated around the highlights.

On a separate node, you can play around with the master wheels to find the base contrast for your image by looking at the before and after. However, unlike the skin tutorial and sky tutorial, we haven’t replaced the light here. We have lessened the hotspot’s intensity and made it look more natural, with the ascension into the light caused by the haze, rather than it just being a bright spot within the image. However, as initially noted, this does add a slight haze to the rest of the image, as well.

Natural Haze
While there’s still a slight haze over the entire image, it looks more natural.

Ultimately, in all circumstances we’ve discussed, these are bandaid fixes. They only slightly hide the error. They all take additional time to implement, especially the sky replacement, so it’s essential to make sure you try your best to retain that highlight detail.


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Cover image by yanik88.