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Photoshop: Turn Beautiful Eyes Into Attention Grabbers
Francesco Schiavon on Mon, March 24th 0 comments
They say the entrance to the soul is through the eyes. So you won't want your eyes looking dull in your photos. Francesco Schiavon shows how to grab attention with your eyes in Photoshop.

I always found fascinating that my mum, who is now in her '80s discovered and likes Peter Gabriel's music. There is this line, from "In Your Eyes", that my mom likes a lot: "In your eyes, I see the doorway to a thousand churches." I can see why she likes it so much. It's really the eyes of a person that are the entrance to their soul.

When we communicate, rather when we relate to a person, we see their eyes, regardless if it's face to face, on TV or on a photograph. Someone's eyes cary their emotions, and a considerable amount of non verbal communication.

In a photograph, specifically a portrait or where we see someone's face, the eyes are arguably the most communicative elements in the frame.

Here, I'll show you how you can take the power of Photoshop, and with a little bit of work you can turn someone's eyes into the attention grabber of a photograph.

The process itself is not difficult, and there are multiple ways you can improve someone's eyes in Photoshop. In this case, the objective is to specifically enhance the contrast in the iris of the eyes.

For this I'm taking the following photo of a young girl courtesy of ShutterStock.com. I chose that photo because we can clearly see both her eyes without much interruption. You want to work on a photo where you can see the irises (the colored part of the eyes), so avoid those with hair or glasses infront of the eyes.

Step 1

Pic 1

The first step will be to select the irises. In this case I'm using Quick Mask Mode literally to paint a selection on the irises. 

Pic 2: Quick Mask Settings

Step 2

Usually I don't like Quick Mask's default that shows masked areas with 50% transparent red. I personally like to show the selected areas, and because we're working on a face that has lots of red, I'm changing the Quick Mask color to green and making it less opaque.

Pic 3: Quick Mask enabled

You can get to these settings by double-clicking on the Quick Mask icon at the bottom of the tools palette.

Step 3

Pic 4: Brush settings

I'm grabbing a round brush, with a fairly hard edge to it, and making it the size of one of the irises (depending on the eye alignment, most often the same brush size will work for both eye, but if it doesn't, just adjust accordingly). You can get the brush settings dialogue box by right-clicking the canvas with the Brush tool or from the options bar at the top. You'll notice that the brush I'm selecting has a hardness of around 75%, since I want it somewhat defined, but still blend a bit with the white of the eye.

Step 4

Pic 5: First iris selection

With this brush, I'll paint a selection that is the size of the iris. Note the black foreground color in the Tools palette. You'll also see that I'm painting on top of her eyelid, but that's fine because next we'll get rid of that.

Step 5

Pic 6: un-paint selection

To "un-paint" or remove the eyelid from the painted selection, invert the brush so we get white as the foreground color and with this white brush remove the areas touching the eyelids.

Step 6

Pic 7: Paint-select both eyes

Next, go do the same thing on the other eye. With a black brush paint a selection the shape of the iris, then with a white brush, "un-paint" the eyelid areas.

At this point we're done "painting" our selection, so we can leave Quick Mask mode by clicking again the Quick Mask icon in the tools palette.

Step 7

Pic 8: Marching ants

Once back in standard mode, you should see the marching ants around the irises. To tell you the truth you can use which ever selection mechanism that works for you. For me, I find that since the irises are round, the above method is quite fast for me.

Step 8

Please note that the marching ants are not on the edge of the photo. If they were, that means you've selected everything except the irises! If you do see the marching ants around her irises as well as the edges of the photo:
Pic 9: Opposite selection

Simply inverse your selection from the menu bar (Select->Inverse) or with the keyboard shortcut Shift-Control-I on Windows or Shift-Command-I on the Mac.

This is where the magic happens. With the current selection we'll increase the contrast of the irises by adding a Levels adjustment layer.

Step 9

Pic 9: Oposite selection

From the bottom of the layers palette, click the Adjustment Layer pop-up menu and choose "Levels".

Here you'll have to tweak the Levels setting based on your own photo. But the idea is to take the black handle on the lower left of the histogram and push it to the right. This will make the darker areas of the irises darker.

Pic 10: Add levels

Step 10

Pic 11: Applying levels

Next, push the handle white handle on the lower right of the histogram inwards. This will make the brighter parts of the irises brighter. Things like reflections will start to pop out of the eyes. Also you'll notice the whole irises will get brighter. Watch out not to over-do these tweaks otherwise you may end up changing the person's eye color! In most cases we don't want that; we just want to increase the contrast in a controlled manner. Alternatively you can also tweak the mid tones (the grey handle below the histogram).

As you're going through the process, toggle the visibility of the adjustment layer so you can see how much impact your change is having. There is really no mathematical recipe here. It's completely subjective and totally depends on what you like. I'd suggest exaggerating the effect and then working backwards.

Final Points

Original shot.

Original shot.

Final version.

Final version.

Here you can compare what we started with, and what it looks like after the edit. It should not be a major change, but you should see her eyes appearing more transparent and expressive.

Extra Tips

Want to have fun? Now that we've got the mask made for the Levels adjustment layer, we can add Hue/Saturation to actually change the eye colour.

Just as we did above, add a new adjustment layer but this time for Hue/Saturation. 

Pic 13: Hue Sturation clipping mask

With the new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer selected, choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask from the Menu bar. This will ensure that whatever change you make to the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer will only affect the areas defined by the Levels mask below.

How would she look with blue eyes instead?

Pic 14: Blue eyes

The best part of all this is that all the edits we did are non-destructive. This means that if we turn off the adjustment layers or if we change their values after they were created, the original photo is still in the background.

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