How to Brighten Eyes in Photoshop: Make them pop!

One of the most striking things about truly exceptional photographs of people is when they have bright, remarkable, eyes. It’s one of those things that really gives photos that wow-factor. In this guide, I’m going to show you how to brighten eyes in Photoshop and make them truly stand out.

One of the best things about this method to brighten eyes in photoshop is that it can be done on virtually any photo, and it only takes about 10 minutes to achieve fantastic results.

kid wearing toque

This is the image we’re going to be working with today. The kid’s eyes are very prominent in this photo, and there’s a lot we can do to improve them and really make them a focal point. We’ll do this by first adding some additional color followed by some brightening to make them really pop.

Here’s both the original and the end-result side-by-side so that you can see the effect really bright eyes has on a photograph:

Eyes brightened in Photoshop

Side by side comparison of the original and final version with eyes brightened in Photoshop

Anatomy of the Eye

Don’t worry, we’re not actually going to talk about the biological anatomy of the eye, but we are going to look at how light interacts with the eye, and the various colors involved. First let’s look at a closeup of the right eye itself from our working photo.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 5.32.31 PM

There’s a few things here that we’ll want to make note of before starting work to brighten the eyes in Photoshop. First, you’ll notice the white reflection on the left side of the eye. This indicates that the direction of light in the photo enters the eye on the left.

Since eyeballs are generally round, the light therefore exits the eye in the opposite location on the right-hand side of the eye. We’ll want to focus our brightening efforts there to ensure that it looks natural.

We'll focus our brightening efforts on the right-hand side of the eyes

We’ll focus our brightening efforts on the right-hand side of the eyes

Next, let’s look at the colors within the iris of the eye. You’ll see that this eye (and nearly all eyes in general) are not a uniform color. There’s a yellowish ring closest the pupil, and then an outer ring with the child’s natural eye color — sort of a brownish green color in our case.

The eye has two distinct rings of color

The eye has two distinct rings of color

Enhancing the Eye Color

Our first step will be to enhance the natural eye color of the child’s eyes. We’ll do this by actually painting color onto the iris itself, and using a blend mode to make it more natural. We’ll do this using two separate colors, one for the inner yellow part, and one for the green, as follows:

  • Add a new layer (shortcut CMD-Shift-N).
  • Choose the eyedropper tool (shortcut: I) and pick a color in the yellowish part of the eye.
  • This color will now become your new foreground color. Click on the foreground color in your toolbar to bring up the Foreground color picker panel.
  • Increase the saturation of the color by choosing something near the upper-right region of the color picker.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 6.01.04 PM

  • Now, choose the brush tool, select a very small brush size, with hardness, opacity, and flow set to 100%.
  • Paint a zigzag, somewhat random pattern on the yellow part of the eye in the light-exit area we defined at the start.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 6.06.25 PM

  • Don’t worry – it looks bad now but we’ll fix that in a moment!
  • Add another new layer.
  • Use the color picker again and select the green/brown color from the eye.
  • Increase the and paint a zigzag pattern again for that part of the iris.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 6.19.47 PM

  • Now we’ll make it look more natural. Select each of the two new layers and change the blend type to Soft Light.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 6.22.04 PM

  • Now we’ll blend it in a bit to the existing color using a gaussian blur. Select both layers again, and go to Filters -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur. Select a small radius like 1 px.
  • Let’s zoom out and have a look at progress so far.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 6.27.10 PM

We’re getting there, but not finished yet. The next step will be to brighten the eyes overall.

Brightening the eyes

Now we’ll enhance the eyes overall by introducing some brightening. This will work to really make the eyes stand out.

  • Add a curves adjustment layer, click in the center of the curve, and raise it up a notch so that the entire photo is significantly brighter.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 6.34.33 PM

  • Now, invert the layer mask (shortcut CMD-I). The layer mask should turn black and you shouldn’t see any brightening on the photo.
  • With the layer mask selected, select the brush tool, choose a soft brush, and paint in white the middle part of the iris in the area we colored before.
  • Apply a gaussian blur to this layer as well using the same steps as before.

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 6.44.03 PM

We’re close to being done, but the colors and brightness are a bit too dramatic. To make it look more natural, the final step is to play around with the opacity levels of each of the layers we added until we find a combination that looks best. In my case, I settled on an opacity of 89% for the curves layer, 40% for the inner iris, and 54% for the outer iris.

Here’s our final result!

Eyes brightened in Photoshop

Eyes brightened in Photoshop

Did you enjoy this guide? What other guides would you like to see? I’d love to see your photos where you’ve used this technique. Please post your photos in the comments below!



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