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Brightening and Sharpening Eyes In Photoshop

Brightening and sharpening eyes are two of the key ways in which to turn so-so pictures into fresh, vibrant portraits. For this tutorial I've used an image from RGB stock, which you can download here and follow along with. Here are the before and after images:

Before:

brighten eyes in photoshop

After:

brighten eyes in photoshop

I usually start dealing with the eyes having already corrected colour, got rid of blemishes with the clone tool and made a curves adjustment. After brightening the eyes I then go on to soften the skin. But we'll just be improving the eyes in this tutorial. So, lets get going...

 

1. With the image open in the layers palette, hit Ctrl/Cmd + J to duplicate the background layer (this enables non-destructive edits, and provides a before/after view at the end).

brighten eyes in photoshop

 

2. Change the blending mode of your new layer to Screen, which brightens the whole picture.

brighten eyes in photoshop

Now create a layer mask, but hold down Alt as you do so which automatically fills it with black, making the changes on that layer invisible.

 

3. Now we want to paint back in the brightness, but just on the eyes. So select the brush tool, set white as the foreground colour, set opacity to 100%, soften the edge by holding Shift and tapping [ a few times and then zoom in to 100%. Carefully paint the bright layer back in, being careful to stay within the eye. If you spill over the edge, switch the foreground colour to black, and paint over your mistake to remove it.

brighten eyes in photoshop

 

4. When that's done (don't worry - I know it looks weird. It's meant to at this stage!) reduce the opacity of the brush to around 20%. We're going to reduce dark shadows around the eyes now. In this image there aren't too many, but sometimes you'll find this is a really important step. Paint around the eyes, bringing back the Screen layer a little bit.

brighten eyes in photoshop

 

5. The effect is badly exaggerated now - she looks like she's been in the sun with shades on!

brighten eyes in photoshop

So reduce the opacity of the top layer until the changes to the eye areas looks completely natural and blends in. I brought it down to 40%.

brighten eyes in photoshop

6. Select the background layer and hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to duplicate it. Now select the new duplicate layer and the layer with the brightened eyes by Cmd/Ctrl clicking, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them. Duplicate this new layer. With the top layer selected, zoom in to 100% on the eyes.

 

7. Select the dodge tool from the left hand tool bar, specify Range as Midtones and Opacity as around 15%. Reduce/increase the brush size by tapping [ or ] until it allows you to work accurately within the eyes. Run the brush around the iris a few times, then the whites of the eyes.

 

8. Now select the burn tool, specify Range as Shadows and Opacity as about 10%. Reduce the brush size, so that you are able to trace a thin line around the edge of the iris. Run the brush around the edge of the iris a few times, until the effect is clear.

brighten eyes in photoshop

 

9. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + 0 to zoom back out and assess the changes. It will probably look overdone, so we're going to reduce the opacity again. The idea is to tone it down until it looks completely natural. I set the opacity to 70% for this asjustment.

 

10. Merge the 2 top layers, so that you just have 1 background layer and 1 adjustment layer. Duplicate the top layer. Go to the Filter menu and select Sharpen>Unsharp Mask.

brighten eyes in photoshop

When the Unsharp Mask dialogue box appears, drag the image in the preview screen to the eyes, so you can see the effect sharpening has. Choose the sharpening parameters. I have selected Amount: 150 / Radius: 1.0 / Threshold: 3.0. Hit OK. The whole image will now be sharpened.

brighten eyes in photoshop

 

11. Add a layer mask to the sharpened layer in the layers palette. But as you click the layer mask icon, hold Alt, which will automatically fill it black, hiding the sharpening. Now choose the brush tool, with white as the foreground colour and opacity at 100%. Zoom in tight on the eyes and carefully paint back in the sharpening (make sure the layer mask is selected in the layers palette for this).

brighten eyes in photoshop

Incidentally, we also want the mouth to be nice and sharp, so paint the sharpening back in there too.

 

12. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + 0 to zoom back out and assess the changes. Select the 2 top layers and press Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them. Click on the eye icon in your top layer to make it invisible and check out the before/after. If you feel the effect might have gone a little too far and become slightly unnatural, reduce the opacity of the layer a bit. I brought it down to 80%.

<brighten eyes in photoshop>

Now let's take another close look at the before and after:

Before:

brighten eyes in photoshop

After:

brighten eyes in photoshop

That's it! This is a really quick way of brightening and sharpening eyes in Photoshop. But always take care when doing it, because there's quite a fine balance between improving a portrait and maintaining natural details. The tendency is to go overboard, so make use of the opacity slider to tone down adjustments throughout the process.

After brightening and sharpening eyes I typically go on to soften the skin, which is really quick and easy using the Surface Blur filter. Here's my tutorial on easy portrait softening in Photoshop. Here's a preview of what the image looks like after this softening technique:

After the easy skin softening technique is applied:

I recommend this little digital book if you like simple, effective, easy to follow Photoshop techniques: "Photo Nuts and Post".

Where Next?

Photoshop sharpening techniques

Easy portrait softening in Photoshop

How to use the clone-stamp tool

Return to Photography Art Cafe home

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