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Edit eyes to look believably perfect: The 3 steps I use to sharpen, brighten, and detail eyes.

Hey, this is Fraidy from Peppermint Photography and today I'll be showing you how I edit eyes to boost sharpness and to show beautiful glowy catchlights without taking on an alien glare or getting that over-edited look.

The result will be eyes that look naturally and believably perfect which is kind of the goal in most aspects of portrait editing, don't you think?

So, the first thing I'm going to do is sharpen the eyes, then brighten the whites, and then I'm going to teach you how to bring out the detail in the iris and the catchlights.

So, starting with a flattened image, I'm taking my sharpen tool. I won't be editing directly onto the background layer because I like to be able to adjust things afterward, this is called non-destructive editing. I'm creating a new layer, calling it sharpen. My strength is at about 50, I'm quickly painting over the eyelashes and the iris.

Now one thing I want you to have in mind is if you overdo this you're going to get noise. Also if you over sharpen the iris you'll get weird colors that you really want to stick away from. If you want to look like a pro go slow. Don't be heavy handed.


Now the second thing I'm going to do is take out some of those big red veins. So I'm creating a new layer and using the J tool I'm alt+clicking to select a area, this works pretty much like the stamp tool. Don't spend much time on this just take away anything distracting.

The next thing I'm going to do and you don't need to do this on every eye but only sometimes when it's not perfectly white or it's a little duller than you want it to be. I like to brighten eyes this way. I open up my adjustments menu and go to hue/saturation and take some of the saturation down and bring the lightness up a little bit. This will bring up the brightness without overdoing it. Now ctrl+I to invert the mask and now paint in the whites in the eyes. This also works great on teeth. You can adjust the opacity and move it until looks right. Remember don't be heavy handed.

Now the last thing I'm going to do is dodge and burn the eyes. There are a ton of ways to dodge and burn. This is the way I like to do it. Create a new layer and put it on overlay. What you want to do now is burn - make darker the lashline. then dodge the other parts. Let me break it down for you. The eye and face are made up of mountains and valleys. The mountains are all the highlights and the valleys are all the shadows, they are sticking in. So what you want to do with dodge and burn is make the highlight brighter and the shadows darker. So I'll keep switching from black to white and shadow, highlight... I gave her more of a browbone and a crease on her top lid, a little more of a glow on the top of the lid, and in the crease on the bottom of the lid. So I'm painting some highlights in the waterline and the opposite in the valleys.

Now the last part were going to do is the actual iris. Here is where you want to be the most careful with this because if you do this wrong you'll get alien eyes. So first make the outside of the iris darker, like a valley, so that's the rim and darken the pupil. You want to brighten the catchlights a little bit and now you want to build little bridges with highlights and with valleys. So you're making all the dark parts darker and all the light parts lighter.

The common mistake that editors do is that they make a bright circle on the inside and a dark circle on the outside and this ends up looking like a cat's eye or a snake eye or how I call it, alien eyes. You see how this looks so fake and this one looks so real and it pops.

This hand editing with the dodge and burn does take time. I wouldn't do it if your a cheap photographer that's giving out digital files. But I would do it if your printing big, beautiful prints, anything bigger than a 20 by 30, and you want to have fine art edited details.

There is one more thing you need to know about the eye. The area where the catchlights are is where the light enters the eye and it sort of bounces out on the opposite side. So if your catchlight entered here there will be a smaller bright area, it won't be as bright as your catchlight but it's the next bright area, directly across from where your catchlight is. This is how you know where to do highlights and shadows.

Here we go!

There is one more technique that I like to do. Somethims eyes don't get so much light, especially if their deep-set and they could end up looking like raccoon eyes. So what I like to do is create another dodge and burn layer and brighten the area around the eye as if she was wearing sunglasses. Then lower the opacity too as much as you need it. You see how it gives it that extra bit of brightness.

Now, before and after!

Again, make sure you adjust your opacity so that it looks natural.

I hope you liked this tutorial and that it was helpful to you! Please share it with friends who can use it, too! Sharing is caring :)

And if you’d like to see more photography tips and editing tutorials like this one, make sure you’re subscribed to my email list and follow my stories on Instagram @peppermintphotography.


Bye for now, see you next time!



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