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Eye Enhancement
Posted by: K. Johnstone on 12-31-1969.

"Using Photoshop 7.0 and above"

Enough folks complained about Clarity, here's a quick crib sheet followed by the original 10-27-2003 article.

  • Create a new layer, and on the window that comes up, find...
  • the drop-down list selection, Overlay
  • Make sure you check the checkbox to then fill the layer with gray
  • B gets you the paint brush tool. Use a soft nib (right click)
  • D will make the primary and secondary colors pure black & white.  This is how the Overlay mode is meant to be used, with only those two colors (but I cheat a little at the end)
  • X will switch between black & white
  • You might consider making separate overlay layers for both B&W.  That way you can adjust the opacity of the lights and darks sparately at the end.  This tutorial uses one layer, for instance, but those darks in her pupils could use a tweak
  • Carefully remove all hightlights in the eyes with the Rubber Stamp or Clone Tool (...or use the highlights already there and trace with white in Overlay mode, then just skip the following step)
  • To make an eyeball highlight, I often employ a Hard Light layer, again checking the box to fill with gray.  A few taps, then a swirl around the dot, usually turns out well.  You might experiment with Soft Light sometimes as well
  • Back in Overlay mode, paint with white along the the corneas, make a moon shape facing the highlights (see below pics).  Try working "with the grain" of the subjects eyes, like painting contrast into that eye, but always a crescent
  • Fill in the eyelashes with black, the pupil, and...
  • The whites of the eyes.  Those whites, remember they are usually whitest towards the bottom, and less so towards the top, in a studio setting.  A quick pie-slice shaped scribble at the base of the cornea, how I do it
  • After you are satisfied, you might adjust opacity for the Overlay layer(s), right there on the layers palette
  • At the very end, I might splash in a bit of color (just show the grey overlay mode alone, and trace over your crescents one pass with color):
    • Red for brown eyes
    • Green eyes, I trace in Yellow
    • Blue eyes... usually I splash in some Cyan
This method only really works when there is plenty of clear eye detail in the photograph.  Very distant shots, or eyes in shadow, will require other techniques.

B ack in the early ninties, we didn't have Photoshop.  We had pencils, and dye, maybe an air brush when things got complicated, and there was some gal somewhere who used some oil paints when things got fancy.  That oil painting gal is long gone, and the airbrush gal?  Who was she again? 

But the eyes--the eye enhancement.  Those artists haven't gone anywhere, back in the ol' photolab, the pencil artists stayed.   An early difficulty was figuring a way to capture that look of traditional eye enhancement, only on the computer.  The lab would just print up that digitally manipulated image, and send it back to have some gal draw on those eyes with a colored pencil, and then they send it to the spray room. 

That's how we did it then, and probably how they still do it today, draw on the eye, and then some crazzed lunatic goes in and sprays it really really hard, and the colors POP.  That's why I've always disliked using pencils on prints, so easy for the colors to "pop."  Hard to describe, say, you had to draw in hair. You'd get the colors all matched perfectly, send it to the sprayroom.... The spray guy would hit it, and the colors would go CrAzY is the best way to describe it, POP!  And that hair you drew in didn't match anymore, after all that work. Damn sprayers! O man how it worked on the eyes, though.

Because, photographers wanted the eyes to "pop." They'd often describe it that way: "make the eyes pop."  So we had it down.  I'd rarely use pencils on prints--except for eye enhancement.  There was no other realistic use, as far as I was concerned, not with lunatic sprayers, I'm telling you!  Ok, ok, I admit it: I've sprayed my own stuff, and I make it all pop too.  I'M INSANE.

How to replicate that feel in Photoshop?  Here's how I capture that classic lab eye enhancement in photoshop, without sneezing up laquer.

E verybody looks at a portrait, and starts at the eyes, works their way around the picture, and then works their way back to the eyes.  Zip zap zap zap Zip. So if you're going to do some fakery, the eyes are a dead give away, because they're the first and the last thing seen.  NEVER enhance one eye and then be cheap and flip the eye over on to the other one.  Humans can detect that subconsciously and will know the photo has been retouched. Honesty, they do, trust me. Our goal is to avoid that.  I always retouch both eyes, because the human face is asymmetrical, as is every human being's eyes.  Every person has two unique eyes, so you should retouch them both.  You'll give yourself away, as a retoucher, once you get lazy and do the "horizontal flip."



Here's a pretty gal with green eyes.  We want to make her eyes look fake, but not... too fake.  Crazy, huh?  Well, we want her eyes to "POP" like they would after the sprayroom, only if we could do that in Photoshop.  It's a fine line we want to walk. 

Go in to this gal's eye's and use the rubber stamb or clone tool to remove all the highlights in her eyes. 

Now find where the light is coming from.  In portraits, there's usually two options: 10 'O clock or 2 'O clock.  Here, we have a 10 'O clock portrait, the light source is from the upper left.  So we want to add new specular highlights to her eyeballs. 

You can either <ALT> click on the new layer icon, or go up to the menu and pick LAYER/NEW/LAYER.  This will give you a dialog box.  Change blending mode to Hard Light, then make sure to hit the checkbox for adding grey, press OK, press "D" to set the colors to default black and white, press "1" to make opacity %10, then go in and tap in some new highlights on her eyes.  Tap in the center, and then make a stroke where you swirl out. They should be balls you're drawing, and the inside of the balls are intense while the outside have light strokes.  Y'know make it intense in the center and light on the outside, try to draw highlights.  In this mode it should be pretty easy.

Now make another layer.  This time, make the Blending Mode: Overlay.  In other words, hit layer at the top, at the menu pick overlay mode, you'll see a checkbox asking if you should "fill with Overlay-Neutral color" in which case you should check YES.  Now you can go in here and start touching up this gal's eyes!

It's like the highlight in the eyeball is a star, and the color you must add is a moon.  With the direction of the light, it changes.




See that moon part you have to draw?  Make your verticle strokes a "horizontal grain" on the moon's shape.  The grain follows the direction of the light.  Here's How I did it:


Those strokes, do you see how they go down, follow the light path?

Now it's time to fill things in.  But remember never to go up beyond a certain point with your crescent... you do not want to go up into an area where there is always shadow.


Do you see where the crescent reaches that point where there would be shadow?  Go up there, and you make your picture fake.

What you want to do now in Overlay Neutral mode, is go ahead and fill all that stuff in. See that area I say you shouldn't go? Draw shadows there if it looks right.  Some other areas you might need to hit with white--here's how my Overlay looked:


Notice how I made the whites of the eyes.  It's like scribbling from the base on up. Draw from a point where the cornea meets the skin, and work your way up and blend gently.  See how I scribbled those whites of the eyes?  Also, notice I added color--I did that at the end.

Well, if you have a person with green eyes: Splash in a bit of yellow

Brown eyes?  Splash in a bit of red

Blue eyes? Usually cyan

Hazel eyes? Your call!

Here she is, kids, the final...

I used an opacity of %75 on this.  I hate fake looking pics.  But this image certainly captures the "fake pics" all the photographers ordered all those years.


Notice: Do you see how this photo was retouched "traditionally?"

Check her out under the eyes, do you see the strokes, the funny highlights where eyebags should be? My doing.


Sure, she was retouched traditionally, but her eyes, HER EYES!!!!! Eh?

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