Home > Photoshop Tips/Tricks > Quickie Eye Enhancement : Part 1

Quickie Eye Enhancement : Part 1


We are all guilty of it. Shooting in less than perfect conditions with less than ideal equipment for the job. And sometimes that is OK because we know we can take the files home and fix it with some post process retouching. Here is a trick for a quick eye enhancement that should only take a minute or less once you get the hang of it. It could take even less time if you create an action to prep the layers for you. (I’ll leave the action creation up to you so it fits your own work flow.)

Duplicate Background Layer

Duplicate Background Layer

First I am going to drag the Background layer to the New Layer button as shown. This way any edits or mistakes I might make are on a their own layer and can easily be undone or toned down if necessary. It also lets me quickly see the before and after while I work by simply hiding all but the original background layer. (I always do this before I do ANY retouching at all just in case.)

The next step is to create a Curves Adjustment Layer above the “Background copy” layer. Why an adjustment layer? Simple, I can use a layer mask on it later and so that I can reopen the curve and tweak it as necessary until I am satisfied with the result. Now, add some points to the curve and drag them into a shape roughly like this. The reason I’m adding a point towards the highlight end is to hold the whites where they are, otherwise the whites of the eyes will end up glowing and look unnatural. I also tend to drag a point down near the shadows to help boost the contrast a touch. This curve will brighten up the eyes but the whole image will look washed out now.

Quick Eye Enhancement Curve

Quick Eye Enhancement Curve

Going back to why we used an adjustment layer, click the white layer mask for the Curves layer and fill it with 100% black to hide everything. Now you can use the paint brush and paint with white over the eyes.

Layer Mask

Layer Mask

It’s OK to be messy here, it is easier to paint back with black being neater from the outside of the eyes. (I suggest using a brush about the same size as the eye or less and with a brush hardness of 50% or less.) The paintbrush should be at 100% fill for both steps in order to fully reveal the curve over the eye and to re-mask the areas you painted outside of the lines. The mask should look a little bit like this now. (Creepy huh?)

Iris Selection

Iris Selection

Now the eyes should be the only part of the image that the curves layer affects. This is a good time to re-tweak the curve to match the image until you are happy. But we are not done yet so don’t go flattening the layers now. To help the separation and further enhance the eyes, we want to grab the elliptical marquee tool and create some circles just around the edges of the iris on both eyes. Now hide the selection and with the layer mask still active, stroke the selection with black. The stroke size will vary depending on the image resolution but it should only take 2-12 pixels for most images. You can repeat the stroke until you get a slight dark ring around the iris. Deselect and re-mask the areas of the stroke that are outside of the eye.

Before & After

Before & After

Lastly, if you so desire, you can use the burn tool over the pupils to slightly darken them but be sure you do this on the “Background copy” layer. It won’t do you any good if you are editing the layer mask still. (It’s an easy mistake to make.) Optionally, you can also use the sponge tool to slightly saturate the eyes or go into further retouching such as fixing catch lights, lash enhancement and of course retouching around the eyes which I will cover all of in future posts.

Here is the final retouched image with further retouching and color correction. Last but not least, I would like to thank Rob for letting me use his image for this example.

Finished Image

Finished Image

Quickie Eye Enhancement: Part 2 is now available here: Continue to Part 2

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  1. Bev
    April 20, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for this info! I am always looking to improve my editing results. I’ve bookmarked your blog and look forward to other informative posts.

  1. April 22, 2009 at 7:47 am

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