An Intro to Lightening and Brightening Eyes in Adobe Photoshop CC

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It is said that eyes are the windows to our souls and when focusing in on a portrait, we do our best to make sure they are razor sharp. With a bit of help from Photoshop, we can take the beauty of the eyes a step further. Today, we will be examining a method that I have personally used over the last few years to truly make eyes pop and give them another dimension of depth.


Our goal is not to make the eyes violently vivid or blinding but to give them a look that strengthens the overall focus of the image. As an example, we will be using a public domain photograph taken by Petra on Pixabay. The photo depicts a portrait of an older man with graying hair and soft brown eyes. To follow along, you can download the ‘XL Resolution’ of the photo by clicking here.

Once you have the image saved to your computer, open the photograph in Photoshop. For this tutorial, we will be using the latest edition of Photoshop CC, but past versions of the program should still be applicable.

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Zoom in on the subject’s eyes and select the ‘Quick Mask Mode’ by hitting the ‘Q’ key or selecting it from the toolbar on the left-hand side. Now, select the brush tool by hitting the ‘B’ key and set your hardness to around 80%. For this image, I have chosen a brush size of 25px. Both of these settings can be adjusted by right-clicking anywhere on the photo.

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Trace both eyes’ pupils and irises with the brush so that your selection matches the screenshot seen above. If you make a mistake, you can use the erase tool by hitting the ‘E’ key to fix it. When you are satisfied with your selection, continue.

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We are next going to create a layer from the selected results. Begin by zooming out so you can see the entire image, and then hit the ‘Q’ key to disable the ‘Quick Mask Mode’. You will notice that our mask has, in fact, actually selected everything excluding the eyes. To remedy this situation, go to the top menu bar and choose ‘Select’ then ‘Inverse’. Now, only the eyes should be selected.

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Head to the ‘Layer’ menu option, select ‘New Layer’, and finally ‘Layer via Copy’. We now have a layer that contains only a copy of the eyes. To keep things simple, rename the new ‘Layer 1’ to ‘Eyes’ by double clicking on the name in the Layer palette.

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We are going to start by simply increasing the saturation of the selection; this is performed by adding an adjustments layer. Go to the top menu bar and choose ‘Layer’, ‘New Adjustments Layer’, then ‘Hue/Saturation’. Alternatively, use the ‘New Adjustments Layer’ button below the Layers palette.

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We are now presented with a window allowing us to adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness of our subject’s eyes. Before we do this, however, right click on the new adjustment layer in your layer palette and select ‘Create Clipping Mask’; this will ensure that our changes only affect the ‘Eyes’ layer and not the entire image.

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For this example, we are going to leave the eyes the same color, so there is no need to adjust the hue. However, we will increase the saturation by 20. Change the setting to your taste, but be sure not to increase the saturation too high or the photo will appear unnatural. This process looks good and gives the eyes a bit more color.

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The eyes are still not popping, however, so let’s add some more dimension. Begin by creating a new layer by going to the top menu bar and selecting ‘Layer’, then ‘New”, and finally ‘Layer’. To keep track of our adjustments, name the new layer ‘Depth’.

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Zoom in very closely on a single eye, then select the brush tool with the ‘B’ key and ensure your brush is set to the size of a single pixel. For the brush’s color, select white from the color palette in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Making sure the ‘Depth’ layer is still selected and draw a zig-zag pattern within the iris. Repeat for the second eye.

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Next, head to ‘Filter’, ‘Blur’, then ‘Gaussian Blur’. We want to select a level of blur that makes the original zig-zags nearly disappear. For this example, I have used a radius of 2.8 pixels. When finished, select ‘Ok’. With the ‘Depth’ layer still selected, change the layer type from ‘Normal’ to ‘Overlay’; this can be done in the Layer palette directly above the list.



And congratulations, you are done. The above has been a simple technique to help eyes pop and give your portrait a more enhanced look. There are many other ways to touch-up eyes, but I find this method extremely easy and quick for my everyday work. Be sure to let us know about your favorite method or if you have any questions.