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Take a good look at any professional image – especially in beauty – and you will see that the eyes clearly stand out. While they may not be always be the focal point of an image, they will surely be beautiful. In reality, they can be stunning. In an image, sometimes the camera does not capture the true beauty and unique details, but when editing, there is plenty you can do to play up the eyes.

As with most things in retouching, there are many things you can do to enhance the eyes. And, depending on the image, you may not want or need to apply all techniques. Here, we show you a few simple things you can do to spice up the eyes in under ten minutes.

First, let’s look at the image below.

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As you can see, this image already has a good amount of editing. The skin is free of blemishes, the light and color optimal, and the eyes have already been retouched. The whites of the eyes have been cleaned and deveined. What we would like to do now, is bring a little more attention and detail to the iris.

We will zoom in until we can see really good detail in the eyes. This is so we can fine tune our work; we want to be able to make changes on a very minute level using a larger brush. If we left the image at regular size, even a small brush would make too large of adjustments. Keep both eyes in view, so that you can compare both eyes as you perform the edits. Zoom out for perspective whenever you need to check your work.

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As always, before we begin any type of retouching, we will want to create a new layer for non-destructive editing. After you've done this, set the blend mode to “Overlay”.

Note: You can also duplicate the layer. Though, this may not be ideal if you have a large file since duplicating large images tends to increase file size and may slow the application depending on your computer’s capabilities. An alternative is make a selection around the portion you want to work on – both eyes for example, and duplicate only that portion of the image.

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The first thing we'll do to the eyes is bring contrast to the iris through a technique called dodge and burn. We will show you a shortcut method, as this is the quickest and easiest way to do it. If you are comfortable with another technique, you can use that as well.

Name the layer something you can refer to later. We’ll name ours “dodge & burn”. Now, select the brush tool [B], adjust the brush opacity slider to 20-30% and flow 30-40%, and begin painting with a soft white brush over the light areas of the iris. Continue to make small brush strokes until changes become visible. The intent is to lighten the colors, so you’ll want to avoid dark areas – especially the pupil. Pay particular attention to catch lights. To make these really stand out, change brush opacity to 80%/flow 100% and blot over them. Don’t worry if brushing appears too intense, we will adjust the intensity later. At this point, we want the changes to be discernable.

Keeping the brush at 20-30%, paint black over dark areas including the pupil and the outer edges of the iris. Your image should look something like this.

Note: If you make a mistake and go over dark areas or other areas unintended, you can use the eraser tool [E] and repaint. Be mindful that if you are using a duplicate layer, instead of a blank layer, the eraser tool will erase parts of the image, as well. In this case, use the history brush tool to restore the image on the duplicate layer.

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Next, we will brighten the eyes by applying a curve adjustment layer. To add an adjustment layer as a separate layer, go to the bottom of the layers panel and select the half-filled circle icon to select “curves”. A curves panel will open. There, adjust your curve similar to the demonstration below until the entire image becomes brighter. Rename the layer “brighten”.

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Go again to the bottom of the layers panel. This time, with the curves layer still selected, hold down the ALT/OPT and press the icon that looks like a square containing a circle. This will create an inverted layer mask, which will hide all the effects for that layer. Finally, take a soft white brush, adjust the opacity and flow to 100%, and then carefully paint over the entire iris and pupil on the black layer mask to reveal all the effects applied thus far.

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Here is where we can make adjustments to the intensity by adjusting the opacity slider of the “Brighten” or curves layer. Use the scruby slider and slide it all the way to the left until you reach a value of “0%”. Then, slowly increase the opacity until you reach the level of effect you want applied to the layer.

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When finished, compare the before and after and you should have what we achieved below.

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What We Learned

In this tutorial, we showed you how to make a quick adjustment to make the eyes appear more lively. There are other things you can do, such as darken the eyelashes, eyebrows, and eyeliner with the dodge and burn technique we showed you here. Basically, all we did here was bring out the highlights and contrast in the iris and catchlights. For more advanced editing, you can add two-tone color to the iris, change color, sharpen eyes, or add makeup to bring more attention to the eyes. Just remember that when you make such edits to the eyes, it is a good idea to also add adjustments to the entire image to compensate for the changes in tone and theme. •••

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[DOWNLOAD] practice file, How to Use and Manager Layers


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