How To Darken Images And Layers In Photoshop (3 Easy Tools)

With a photo that’s just a little too bright, Photoshop is here to save the day by offering several simple image darkening tools. Whether you need to darken your entire photo, a single layer, or only target a specific area, Photoshop makes it easy. With the tips outlined below, you’ll be able to correct your bright photos in no time.

To darken an image in Photoshop, go to Image > Adjustments > Exposure to create a new Exposure Adjustment Layer. In the dialogue box that appears, move the “Exposure” slider to the left to darken your photo. This will darken your entire image at once and correct any overexposed areas.

Depending on the exact darkening adjustment you want to perform, there are a few different ways to do it. Let’s get into the specifics and get you up to speed on the best ways to darken images in Photoshop. 

3 Easy Tools For Darkening Images In Photoshop

There are a ton of different ways to make these adjustments in Photoshop. To avoid overwhelm, let’s focus on the three most important ones. The three adjustment methods below are the fastest and easiest to use, no matter your ability levels.

1. The Exposure Adjustment Layer

The exposure adjustment layer allows you to control your image’s overall exposure (aka brightness) with a single slider. For images with blown-out highlights, this is a great tool to use. 

There are a couple of different ways you can create an Exposure Adjustment Layer depending on your preferences. The first way is by going to your Adjustments Panel and selecting the Exposure Adjustment icon.

If you don’t see this panel, go up to Window > Adjustments.

You can achieve a similar result by going to Image > Adjustments > Exposure to create a new exposure adjustment. 

The difference with this way is that you will not have an Exposure Adjustment Layer created afterward. Instead, the darkening adjustment will apply directly to your image, making it uneditable.

Since it’s always nice to work non-destructively and have the option to refine adjustments, the adjustment panel method is more favorable. 

Regardless of which method you used, a dialogue box will appear with three different sliders called:

  • Exposure
  • Offset
  • Gamma Correction

The Exposure slider will control the overall brightness or darkness of your photo. Since we’re talking about darkening images in Photoshop, that means you’ll move the Exposure Slider left. 

As you move this slider further left, your image will become increasingly dark. Depending on how bright your photo was to begin with, the right setting will vary.

After the exposure adjustment, you’re left with the Offset and Gamma Correction sliders. The Offset slider will lift or lower the base point of your shadows. By increasing this slider, your image will take on a matte appearance while taking on deeper shadows when decreased.

Meanwhile, the Gamma Correction slider offers further control to the brightness of the mid-tones. By adjusting this slider, you can brighten or darken the middle exposure values to further refine your darkening adjustment.

The Offset and Gamma Correction sliders are more helpful additions rather than necessary tools. If you just want to make a quick darkening adjustment to your photo, decreasing the Exposure Slider will do the trick. The other sliders just offer an easy way to improve your exposure further if needed. 

2. Camera RAW

For those who already feel comfortable in Lightroom, darkening images in Camera RAW will feel right at home. Camera RAW is a tool inside Photoshop that allows you to process RAW files before bringing them into the main workspace. When opening a RAW file directly from your computer, Camera RAW will open automatically, making it simple to access.

Even if you aren’t working with a RAW file or have already opened your photo in Photoshop, Camera RAW is easy to access.

With your image layer selected, go to Filter > Camera RAW Filter to open Camera RAW.

Once inside, make sure you’re in the Basic Panel and look for the Exposure Slider. By dragging this to the left, you can darken your entire photo at once.

In many cases, you may only want to darken the brighter parts of your photo. Things like an over-exposed sky or the highlight on someone’s face. In this situation, the whites and highlights sliders prove useful as well. 

Using either one, you’ll only darken the brightest parts of your photo, leaving the shadows untouched. This is a great way to refine your darkening adjustments without crushing the shadows.

Once you’re happy with the adjustment, press OK or OPEN to exit Camera RAW.

By default, Camera Raw will apply all your adjustments directly onto your layer. That means you cannot go back to refine your adjustments later on. Luckily, there is a workaround to this with the help of smart objects!

If you want the option to edit your Camera RAW Filter later on, first convert your layer to a smart object by right-clicking > Convert To Smart Object. 

From there, you can follow the same steps as before (Filter > Camera RAW Filter) and make your adjustments. This time, once you’ve exited Camera RAW, it will be accessible below your layer. 

If you want to get back to your adjustments, just double-click on the filter to gain access. 

You can learn more about smart objects and why they’re useful here.

3. The Brightness & Contrast Adjustment Layer

Now for the third way to darken an image in Photoshop comes the Brightness & Contrast Adjustment Layer. This is the most simple to use darkening adjustment as it only has two sliders to work with. If you want to darken a photo in Photoshop quickly, this adjustment layer offers another great option.

First, create a new Brightness & Contrast Adjustment layer by clicking on the icon in the Adjustments panel. This will create a new adjustment layer in your layers panel, allowing you to edit non-destructively. 

Alternatively, you can go up to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast. With this method, the adjustment will be directly applied to your image or layer. So only do this if you know you’ll be certain with the adjustments you make!

Regardless of how you create the adjustment layer, a dialogue box will appear, offering you two different sliders: Brightness and Contrast.

The brightness slider will control the overall exposure of your photo.

The contrast slider controls the intensity of your highlights and shadows.

To darken your photo, move the brightness slider to the left. Once your photo is darkened, you can play around with the contrast slider to enhance the darkening adjustment. For a more moody look, try increasing the contrast!

How To Darken A Layer In Photoshop

To darken a layer in Photoshop, create a new Brightness & Contrast Adjustment Layer above the layer you want to darken. In the dialogue box that appears, drag the Brightness slider leftwards, then press Command/Control + Option/Alt + G to create a new clipping mask. Now your darkening adjustments will only be visible on the layer directly below the Brightness & Contrast Adjustment Layer.

In Photoshop, all adjustment layers will apply to the entire canvas by default. That means a darkening adjustment would be applied to all layers below the darkening adjustment in the layers panel.

To make your adjustment only target a certain layer, you’ll need to use something called a clipping mask.

Of the three darkening tools you learned about previously, only the exposure adjustment and the brightness & contrast adjustment will work with a clipping mask. That’s because clipping masks only work with adjustment layers.

In this example, let’s darken this layer with an exposure adjustment. I’ll start by clicking on the exposure adjustment icon in the Adjustments panel.

If you don’t see this panel, go to Window > Adjustments.

Then make sure the exposure adjustment layer is above the layer you want to target.

Once the exposure dialogue box appears, click on the clipping mask icon to create a new clipping mask.

Alternatively, you can press Command + Option + G (Mac) or Control + Alt + G (PC) to create a clipping mask.

Now the exposure adjustment will have a right-angle arrow icon indicating a clipping mask. When you make changes to the exposure adjustment layer, the effects will only be applied to the layer it’s clipped to.

Clipping masks can be used with any adjustment layer in Photoshop and are perfect for adding darkening adjustments to one layer. To get a better idea of all the ways you can use clipping masks in Photoshop, check out this post!

How To Darken Part Of An Image

To darken part of an image in Photoshop, first, create an Exposure Adjustment Layer and place it at the top of the Layers Panel. Next, access the Brush Tool (B) and set black to your foreground color. With the Exposure Adjustment layer mask selected, paint over your image to hide the darkening adjustments as needed. Now you’re left with darkening adjustments only visible in parts of your photo.

Layer masks allow you to make your adjustments only show up in certain areas. With the help of the Brush Tool, you can paint over your image to tell Photoshop exactly what you want to edit. For something like darkening part of an image, layer masks are the perfect tool for the job.

Once again, the easiest way to do this is by using adjustment layers. Although you can create masks in Camera RAW, it’s a more round-about way of doing things. That’s why I suggest using the Exposure or Brightness & Contrast adjustment layers instead.

For example, let’s create a new Brightness & Contrast adjustment layer.

By default, it will appear in your layers panel with a white box beside the layer icon. This is your layer mask!

Every adjustment layer you create in Photoshop will automatically have a layer mask created for the layer.

How convenient is that?

When the layer mask is white (100% visible), that means every part of your image will be affected by your adjustment layer. To make certain areas transparent, you need to paint black onto the mask.

To do this, select your Brush Tool (B) and set your foreground color to black.

First, make sure your layer mask is selected by the white outline.  Then begin to paint over the areas of your photo you don’t want to be darkened. 

Once you’re finished, the darkening adjustments will only be visible in the white areas of your mask.

Since I wanted to darken the sky, you can see that the white area of my mask matches up with the upper section of my image.

Now you’ve successfully darkened part of your photo with the help of a layer mask! Layer masks are one of the most valuable tools in Photoshop and can be used in countless different ways. If you’re not familiar with them yet, I highly suggest checking out this post on the uses of masks!

How To Darken Part Of A Layer

Especially when you’re working with cutouts and merging multiple images, you may want to darken part of a certain layer. Rather than using your brush tool and a layer mask to perfectly mask around the edge of something, you can use a clipping mask to help with the process.

For this example, I have a cutout of a person that I want to darken a portion of. First, I’ll create a Brightness & Contrast adjustment layer.

With the adjustment layer created, I’ll create a clipping mask to target the cutout layer.

Now I’ll apply my darkening adjustment as needed. Bringing down the Brightness slider and then adjusting the Contrast as necessary.

Because of the clipping mask, all of these darkening adjustments are only affecting the cutout layer. To further refine this area, you can use a layer mask.

With the Brightness & Contrast adjustment layer mask selected, I’ll grab the Brush Tool (B) and set the foreground color to black.

Now painting over the cutout, I can mask out any sections that I don’t want to darken. Using a clipping mask and layer mask together, you get the ultimate control for your darkening adjustments in Photoshop!

How To Darken Text In Photoshop

To darken text in Photoshop, select your text layer and then open the Character Panel. If you don’t see this panel, go to Window > Character. Inside the Character Panel, click on the “Color” box. In the color picker that appears, select a darker version of your current text color and click OK. Now the darker color will be applied to your text.

With that said, whether you have an editable text layer or have text baked into your photo, there are a couple of different ways to darken it.

– Darkening A Text Layer

If you’re working with a text layer, the easiest way to darken it is by simply changing the color. This is quickly done with the help of the Character Panel.

First, make sure your text layer is selected in the layers panel, then open the Character panel.

If you don’t see this, go up to Window > Character.

Inside the Character panel, click on the “Color” box. From the color picker that appears, select a darker color than your initial text. Since I had a light turquoise color before, I’ll move the color picker to a darker tone and click OK.

Your newly selected color will be applied to your text, and you’re left with a darker color than before!

– Darkening Text That’s Baked Into Your Photo

In some cases, you may have text that is directly applied to your photo. That means there isn’t any editable text layer to work with. Instead, you’ll need to use a Hue Saturation Adjustment Layer to darken the luminance of your text color.

First, create a new Hue Saturation adjustment layer by clicking on the icon in the Adjustments panel.

In this example, the text we are working with is cyan, which means we’ll need to target the cyan color range. In the Hue Saturation dialogue box, I’ll set the color channel from Master to Blues.

If you have a different text color, select the related color channel for your adjustment.

Now click on the Lightness slider and drag it to the left. This will darken the cyan tones in the image, in turn, darkening the text.

By targeting the specific color range, you’re able to darken the color of your text without any selections. This method offers a very simple way of doing things when you don’t have a text layer to work with.

How To Darken Sunlight In Photoshop

To darken sunlight in Photoshop, create a new Curves Adjustment Layer then add anchor points to the shadows and mid-tone areas of the curve. With the anchor points set, add a third anchor point in the highlights and drag it down to darken. This will only darken the highlights in your image and, in turn, darken the sunlight in your photo.

To start, create a new Curves Adjustment layer above your image layer.

In the dialogue box that appears, begin by creating two anchor points in the shadows and mid-tones sections. The goal here is to add the anchor points without moving the curve in any way. This way, you can isolate the highlight exposure range without affecting the rest of your photo.

Once complete, add another anchor point in the highlights section. This time click and drag this anchor point down to darken the highlights. This will darken the brighter areas of your photo and works well to darken sunlight in Photoshop.

In some cases, you may need to bring down the mid-tones anchor point slightly as well.

After some quick adjustments, you’ve successfully darkened the sunlight in your photo with the help of the Curves Adjustment! You can mix this adjustment with any of the three darkening adjustments mentioned previously for even more refined effects.

How To Fix Overexposed Photos In Photoshop

To fix overexposed photos in Photoshop, select your image layer, then go to Filter > Camera RAW Filter. Inside Camera RAW, bring down the Exposure Slider to balance out the brightness. Next decrease the Highlights and Whites Sliders to bring back details and fix any overexposed areas. Once complete, click OK to save your changes and exit Camera RAW.

If you have a totally overexposed photo, and none of the methods so far have done the trick, Camera RAW offers a refined way of fixing this. Using the highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks sliders, you can quickly fix a bright photo.

Start by selecting your image layer, right-clicking on it, and selecting Convert To Smart Object.

Then go up to Filter > Camera Raw Filter.

Inside the Basic panel, you’ll find all your key exposure adjustments. Although you could eyeball your exposure until it feels less bright, the histogram will offer exact feedback. So before making any adjustments, click on the Highlight Clipping Warning option in the histogram.

With this option enabled, any areas of your photo that are too bright will show a red highlight. The goal now is to adjust your sliders until all the red highlight has disappeared.

The easiest way to begin is by darkening the Exposure slider to darken the whole photo. Bring this down to where the photo is darker, but nothing in the photo has become too dark and difficult to see.

Now bring down the Highlights and Whites sliders to bring back the information in the brighter areas of your photo. Every photo will require something different, so play around with these sliders to see your options.

Finally, adjust the Shadows and Blacks sliders to suit your style. By increasing these sliders, you’ll brighten the dark parts of your photo and create a more matte appearance. By decreasing them, you’ll add contrast to your image and deepen the shadows.

Once you’re happy with the adjustments, click OK to save your changes.

Camera RAW will close and be saved as a smart filter beneath your layer. It can be reaccessed at any time by double-clicking on the words “Camera RAW” beneath your layer.

Now you’ve successfully fixed an overexposed image in Photoshop, score!

How To Darken A Face In Photoshop

To darken a face in Photoshop, create a new Brightness & Contrast Adjustment layer and move the Brightness slider leftward. Clicking on the adjustment layer mask, press Command/Control + I to invert the mask. Now select the Brush Tool (B), set white to the foreground color, and paint over the areas of the face you wish to darken.

To darken someone’s face (or sections of it), the Brightness & Contrast Adjustment layer with a layer mask is the best tool for the job.

Start by creating a new Brightness & Contrast Adjustment layer by selecting it from the Adjustments Panel.

In the dialogue box that appears, adjust the brightness slider until you’ve reached a darkening value you’re happy with. At this point, it will apply to the whole photo, but don’t worry, you’ll fix this soon. For now, settle on a darkening value that works for your subject’s face.

Once happy with the adjustment, click on the layer mask and press Command + I (Mac) or Control + I (PC) to invert the layer mask. This will turn your white (aka visible) mask into black (100% transparent).

With the darkening adjustment completely invisible, it’s time to add it back with the Brush Tool. Press B to access your Brush Tool, then set white to the foreground color.

Ensure that the Brightness & Contrast layer mask is selected and begin to paint over the areas of your subject’s face you want to darken. Continue this step until you’ve darkened the desired areas of their face.

If you realize that your darkening adjustments aren’t quite right, just double-click on the Brightness & Contrast layer icon to reopen the dialogue box. Now you can adjust the Brightness slider as needed to refine the darkening adjustments. Since your mask has already been created, your new adjustments will only occur in those visible areas!

Now you’re a master at darkening images in Photoshop with a wide array of helpful techniques to make the job easy. Using the Exposure Adjustment, Camera RAW, or the Brightness & Contrast Adjustment, darkening photos has never been easier.

Happy Editing!

– Brendan 🙂

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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