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Enhancing Eyes using Photoshop - The eyes are one of the most important parts of a portrait, and usually the first thing we notice. Therefore, a small amount of enhancement on the eyes can go a very long way to producing a portrait with real zing.
Words Matthew Page Photo Karen Bacon
When I approach the eyes, I tackle them in four basic stages:
1. Sclera cleanup (thats the eye-whites!)
2. Lighting adjustments
3. Iris enhancement (thats the coloured bit of the eye)
Ive tried to cover the steps in a reasonable amount of detail. Dont be put off in reality these changes only take 5 or 10 minutes to do when you get used to it!
Lets take these one at a time, using this photograph of model Jasmine De Launay.
Now, this is a great portrait, but the eyes need a little bit of work
1. Sclera clean up
In the above image, the sclera has lots of red blood vessels. These can be tidied up pretty quickly.
- Add a new blank layer (Ive called it Sclera clean 1)
- Change the layer blend mode to Color
- Pick the brush tool, set to opacity 50%
- Now, sample some good white (Hold the ALT key down and click) and paint over the blood vessels.
This takes out the red colour, but leaves the vessels showing:
You can see Ive adjusted the layer opacity to 66% so its not quite so plastic-looking.
Next, we can reduce the visibility of the vessels themselves.
- Add a new blank layer (Ive called it Sclera clean 2)
- Keep the blend mode as Normal
- Pick the brush tool (again, soft, and quite low opacity, around 20%)
- Again, ALT-click to sample good colour and paint over the vessels.
Again, Ive reduced the layer opacity a touch (to 70%) to
make it less perfect.
While Im at it, Ive painted some bright red with a 10% brush in the tearduct (on a normal layer). An extra bit of red make the eye look more alive.
2. Lighting Adjustments
Heres my recipe for simple lighting adjustments.
Add a new layer (I call it Dodge & Burn)
- Painting white will lighten
- Painting black will darken
Paint white first of all and lighten up the whole eye, especially the coloured iris.When you’ve done that, paint black and darken the pupil. You can also enhance the outer rim of the iris with black – but do this carefully with a 5% or 10% brush (a Wacom tablet is good for this work).
For severe lighting issues, like adjusting the catch-lights
from the soft-boxes, add another layer set to Overlay and do the same
3. Iris Enhancements
Since weve adjusted the lighting on the iris, it often needs a little bit of extra punch.
- Add a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
- Increase the Saturation a little (+30 in this case)
- Dont worry about the whole image going scarily colourful
- Hit Ctrl-DEL (or Alt-DEL depending on whether black is the background or foreground colour). This will hide the saturation effect from the whole image youll see the layer mask go black
- Now, pick a soft white brush, set to 40%-60% opacity
and paint around the iris to let the increased saturation
At this stage you can have some fun with iris colouration (if you want).
- Add a new layer (call it Iris recolour for instance)
- Change the layer blend mode to Color
- Pick a new iris colour (bright blue, or bright green)
- Paint with a 30% brush around the iris.
- Erase any bleed over into the sclera or lashes
You can go wild here
Pretty much the final stage is sharpening, and is also an essential part of making it zing.
- Lasso roughly around the eyes, including the eye-brows.
- Use Edit / Copy Merged
- Paste the eyes
- Now do an aggressive unsharp mask make it stronger than you would normally use. Say, 150% at radius 2 (depending on your image)
- Hold down the ALT key and click on the layer mask icon of the layers palette (or use the menu Layers / Layer Mask / Hide All)
- Once again, pick a soft white brush, 50% opacity and carefully brush in the sharpness around the iris and lashes.
(You can undo the sharpness by painting black on the layer mask)
A little extra zing
Heres a final technique that Ive found adds some extra punch to the eyes
- Go to the Channels palette and select the blue channel
- Select All (Ctrl-A)
- Copy (Ctrl-C)
- Now go back to the layer palette, to the top layer, and Paste (Ctrl-V)
- Change the layer blend mode to Soft light
- Use Layers / Layer Mask / Hide All (or ALT-click on the layer mask icon on the palette)
- Now paint soft white, only 5% or 10% around the eyes.
This step increases the contrast between the iris and pupil, and also between the lashes and skin. You only need a tiny amount of this. Try hiding and showing the layer to check the effect. If used correctly it tends to open up the eyes, making them appear more accessible to the viewer.
Before and After
Some portraits can benefit from a little liquifying on the eyes increasing their size just fractionally. Use Copy-Merged and paste the eyes onto a new layer and liquify that layer always keep your original image untouched!Since theres often a lot of other rework on a portrait, its a good idea to group all the layers mentioned into an EYE group. That way you can easily toggle the eyes enhancement and check youve not overcooked anything!Just remember: a lot of little changes add up to a lot!