Photoshop Fun! Eye Brightening Tutorial

First, a huge Thank You to Susy for your interest in this and giving me a reason to make this post in the first place!! You rock my socks woman!

Welcome to the first photoshop tutorial I have ever done! 🙂 We’ll start off simple and gradually progress to more in depth editing. Currently, I use both Photoshop Elements 9 & Photoshop CS5 Extended so any tutorials I do will be rooted in those two programs, however everything I post should be doable in almost any other version of photoshop unless otherwise noted. I’m seriously considering doing “Tutorial Tuesday’s” even though this first post is being made on a Friday. Thoughts?

So, let’s get started.

Susy wanted to know how I make the eyes in my photos really pop so that is the topic of today’s post.

First, you have to have a good image to work with from the beginning. That means good focus and decent exposure. (I will make a post on correcting the exposure in an image later on.) If I don’t have a good starting image, I don’t bother to work with it in the first place.

There are 4 steps I use to get eyes that really pop: Sharpening (if needed only), Defining, Whiter Whites & finally, the actual brightening of the iris. I will talk about each of them, some in more detail than others. You do not have to do them in that order although I do recommend sharpening first.


1.) In a portrait, I focus on the eyes so they are the sharpest part of the image. If the eyes aren’t quite sharp enough in the initial image, you can always sharpen them a bit with photoshop if needed, but subtlety is the key; don’t over sharpen or it will just look fake.

*I wanted to include an example of an image where the eyes needed sharpening, but even though I know I have some, I couldn’t seem to find them so I will add one later when I come across them.* For now, just use your own judgement on whether or not you think the eyes are sharp enough. I am using one where the eyes do not need sharpening so if you need something to go by, you can start by studying the photo I’m using for this tutorial.

(For a tutorial on sharpening, check back later. Once I get one posted, I will link it in this post. For now, if you need help with it, just google it. There are already a ton of tutorials on it.)


2.) Now that you’ve decided your eyes are sharp enough, we’re going to brighten them.

  • Make a duplicate of your image by selecting Layer>Duplicate Layer. Name it whatever you like. I just kept mine named “Background Layer” this time, but normally I would change it to something like “Eye Bright” if I know I’m going to be using multiple layers.
  • You may need to zoom in on the eyes in the photo. Now, click on your brush tool or simply click “B” to select it via a shortcut. (I love shortcuts!)
  • Make sure you’ve chosen a soft, round brush and a brush size appropriate for the size of the area you’re coloring (I chose 30px for this image). You can use your “[ ]” keys to adjust the size of the brush rather than using the slider all the time. Use the left “[” to make the brush smaller and the right “]” to make it bigger. Choose white as your brush color and make sure the blending mode is set to “Overlay.”
  • Now carefully paint over the colored part of your eyes with the white brush making sure not to go over the pupil. It will look really weird at first, but keep going until the iris is completely colored in. Also, be aware that when you’re painting, you have to try to do it in one click – once you let go of the mouse and start painting again, it just makes anything you go over that has already been painted even brighter than before which will make your adjustments noticeably uneven. If you mess up, you can always go back. But make sure that when you begin painting again you are painting on your duplicated layer and not your original image underneath it or the opacity adjuster in the layers pane will not work when you need it!
  • (*Note: You can set the opacity of the white brush to about 20-30% before you start painting the eye and keep painting over the iris as needed until you get the desired brightness and then adjust the layer opacity to taste in the layers pane on the right. In this case, once you let go of the mouse, you paint over the iris again until it looks the way you want. But what I prefer to do is leave the brush opacity at 100% and bring the layer opacity down in the Layers Pane after I’m done painting. It saves me from having to go over the eye several times if the eye is particularly dark and not brightening well.*)

  • Look to the right in the Layers pane and adjust the opacity to somewhere around 20-30% or whatever looks good to your eye (I chose 39%). Keep it subtle though and don’t over-brighten or your eyes will end up looking like alien laser beams or something similar.
  • I posted the layers pane twice to give you a bigger view 🙂

You can play around with it a bit if you like; flatten the image by selecting Layer>Flatten Image and repeat the above steps until you get the desired effect.

Whiter Whites:

The other thing I do to enhance the eyes is brighten the whites of the eyes if they look red or bloodshot at all or if they just look a little dull. You do this by following the same steps above and only painting over the whites of the eyes. You may need to reduce the opacity a bit more (to about 10-15%) to make it look natural. Be careful to do it in one step because, as noted before, once you let go of the mouse, the brush resets so anything you go over twice will be darker or brighter (whichever applies) than everything else which will make your adjustments uneven. You can avoid this by using layer masks, but in the name of keeping this first tutorial as simple as possible, I won’t get into those yet. I will post another tutorial on using layers masks later!

After Painting: (You can be more precise about this – I just did it quickly as an example so I didn’t reach all the way into the corners around the iris.)

After adjusting the opacity to 14%:

Defining the Eye:

You can also enhance the boldness of the lashes on the top and bottom, which will help to draw more focus to the eyes; very similar to what eye-liner and mascara do for us girls…the effect is subtle but miraculous 🙂 To do that, follow the same steps above with a much smaller brush size (I chose 9px for this one), except select black as your color instead of white and carefully outline the eye on the bottom lashes and the top lashes being careful not to touch the skin too much. This is optional, but you may also choose to paint a thin ring around the outer part of the iris (don’t hit the whites of the eyes – it is noticeable) to make the inner-color pop a bit more. You can also do this around the outside of the pupil.

Adjust the layer opacity to taste (I like it at about 10-15% but it depends on your image) and admire your work 😉 I chose 10% Opacity for this one.

Here is my completed example for you to compare 🙂

If you have questions or suggestions for other tutorials you’d like to see, feel free to post them in the comments. I’m happy to help! 🙂


6 thoughts on “Photoshop Fun! Eye Brightening Tutorial

  1. Thank so much for posting this! I am so excited to try it out. It looks fairly simple and I’m sure it will be once I get the hang of it!

    Btw.. you take awesome pics! I love the picture of your kiddo with pink hair. Total awesomeness!

    • You are so welcome! Thanks for asking about it! 🙂 I thought about doing it before, but figured no one would be interested. As long as I know there is at least one person then that makes it worth it 🙂 Feel free to post your pictures after you try it – I’d love to see it!!

      And thank you for the compliment. I love that picture of my little Strawberry Shortcake, too 😀

      • You know what I noticed while doing this tutorial. First off, it worked for me. I still need practice, but that’ll come after some practice. What I did realize was that I do better using the burn tool to darken up the pupils and along the lashes. Have you ever tried doing it that way?

      • Aw, yay! I’m glad you tried it! And yes, I have used the burn tool and I love doing it that way, but when I was first learning how to do this, I learned it all with the paint brush and it sort of became a habit. Everyone has different ways that work better for them or certain orders that they like best…I’m glad you tried a different way and liked it! 🙂 Sometimes, I use the burn tool on really light colored eyes (like if the sun is making them look a little more “glowy” than I’d like lol) in a different layer so that I can make them look as if they have a bit more depth.

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