I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest photo editor, but I gave it a shot! The final photo could definitely be tweaked and finessed more, but I didn’t have enough time for that.
A good tip for editing problematic photos is to always break the goal and obstacle first.
Without a clear goal (or desired result) in mind before going into editing, you’ll often spend a ton of time tinkering without getting where you want to go. (Believe me, I’ve spent hours just aimlessly clicking toggles and messing about with sliders!) If you at least have a general idea of what you want to accomplish in the editing process, you’ll be able to figure out what tools you’ll need to use to get there! For example, the goal here, as you mentioned earlier, is to properly expose the photo.
Now that we’ve got a clear goal in mind–proper exposure–let’s figure out what the obstacle we’re facing is. Here, the issue is that you’re taking a photo of flowers in the shade lit by fairly diffused light on a background lit by strong, dappled sunlight. To boil it down even further, the background is much brighter and lit differently than the foreground.
Now that we’ve covered the goal and obstacle, we can move on to editing.
The first thing I wanted to is separating the foreground from the background using a duplicated layer with a precise mask.
Once I had finished doing that, I started working on the exposure problem. I used a masked Shadow and Highlights layer to work with that pesky centered leaf, a levels adjustment layer to lower the white point WAY down and adjust the overall gamma, and a black and white adjustment layer (set to Luminosity) to fine tune the colors and exposure of the flower petals and stamens.
I used fine, feathered selections to target the heavily shadowed areas in the flower petals and “evened” the lighting using the Dodge Brush tool.
I then duplicated the background again and fine-tuned the exposure using the Exposure adjustment layer to match better with the flowers.
Finally, I used a Brightness and Contrast adjustment layer over all of the layers to brighten up the overall photo and reintroduce some contrast to developing the colors a bit. I also removed just a bit of color with a Vibrance adjustment layer to pull back the greens in the background and make the photo more realistic.
Hopefully, that helps a bit!