Make your portrait's eyes come alive

If eyes really are the windows into one's soul, then it probably helps to keep those windows bright and clean.

If eyes really are the windows into one's soul, then it probably helps to keep those windows bright and clean. It's amazing how much of a difference bright, energetic-looking eyes can make to a photo. Indeed, a lot of pros in fashion photography use a subtle trick: They brighten the whites of the eyes, making them seem to come alive. You can achieve the same effect with any photo editing program. As usual, I'll show you how to do this in Adobe Photoshop Elements.


Suppose you have a photo like this one, in which the subject's eyes are an important part of the photo. It's not bad, but with a little editing magic, we can do better.


There are any number of ways to brighten the photo, but today let's try "screening" a duplicate layer. To do that, choose Layer, Duplicate Layer, and click OK on the Duplicate Layer dialog box. Then go to the Layers palette on the right side of the screen and choose Screen from the drop-down menu.

Notice that the entire photo is now dramatically brighter. That's not exactly what we were trying to do; we just want to make the eyes brighter, not the whole image. We'll fix that next.

Before we get to that, though, let me point out that if you have a photo editing program that lets you use masks, this process is a little easier. You could simply add an opaque mask to the whole photo and erase the area over the eyes. Since Photoshop Elements does not support masks, we'll have to do this a little differently. It's not much harder; it's just a little less efficient.

Making Do Without Masks

For starters, we want to erase most of the top layer, leaving the bright, "screened" section in place around the eyes. To do that, select the Eraser Tool from the 16th cubby from the top of the toolbar on the left side of the screen. We want to erase broad swaths of the photo quickly, so increase the size of the brush. In the Tool options palette at the top of the screen, increase the size to about 100 pixels, and then quickly wipe the photo to restore the bottom layer, careful to avoid erasing the subject's face. (Depending upon the size of your photo, you might need to make the brush bigger or smaller to efficiently erase around the subject's face.)

Fine-Tuning the Face


When you're done, it's time to fine-tune the face, which is the one part of the top layer we haven't deleted. Set the brush size to a fairly small value, so you can accurately erase the face without eliminating any of the brightness from the eyes. It's also important to make sure the bush has feathered (or soft) edges. Select the Brush Shape menu and choose a soft brush. For my photo, the 27-pixel soft round was just about right.


Now it's time to carefully finish the erasure of the top layer, working around the eyes to leave them intact. When you're done, you should get something like this.


Unfortunately, that's just… scary. Obviously, it's way too bright and the edit makes her look somewhat demonic. For the finishing touch, grab the Opacity slider in the Layers palette (on the right side of the screen) and pull it back until it looks about right--which, for this photo, I found to be about 22 percent.

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Dave Johnson

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