How to Edit Eyes in Lightroom an excerpt from The Eyes Have It: The Complete Guide to Sparkly and Tack Sharp Eyes. Read more about it here.
Fix Bloodshot Eyes in Lightroom:
Activate your Spot Removal tool (shortcut: Q). For this job, I like the Heal option. Your brush needs to be just barely wider than the blood vessel you are trying to hide. You can use
[ to make your brush smaller and ] to make it larger, or you can adjust the Size slider that you see in the screen shot below.
Set a relatively high Feather so that the edges of the area you clean up are soft.
After setting your brush, click and drag it over the bloodshot area. This tells Lightroom that you want to remove the blemish in this area. Lightroom will then suggest an area in the photo that it thinks would make a good source for “better” pixels. You can see in the image below that Lightroom wanted to move part of her nose into her eye in order to remove the bloodshot area.
As this was less than ideal (insert sarcastic tone), I clicked and dragged the dot over her nose into her eye, just above the bloodshot bit. This tells Lightroom to replace the bloodshot part of the eye with the clean area just above it.
In the image below, you can see two points. The lower one is the bloodshot area. The upper one is the area that Lightroom will take the “better” pixels from.
And here is a before and after of this edit:
When I zoom out of the photo above, the other veins aren’t visible. For that reason, it’s not worth taking the time to edit them. If you want to do a total clean up, however, you might need to take the photo into Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. The smaller the area you want to remove gets, the harder using that Spot Removal tool becomes.
How to Edit Eyes in Lightroom: Brighten Eyes
To learn how to edit eyes in Lightroom, you’ll need to be Local Adjustment Brush master. If you haven’t spent much time with the tool, this tutorial will be a great introduction. I’ll also link at the bottom to other resources if you’re starting from scratch.
To brighten eyes, activate the local adjustment tool (K). Dial in settings similar to mine in the image below. When brightening, focus on increasing Exposure & Shadows. Your settings will vary based on how much the eyes in your photo need to be lightened. The areas where you brush on the adjustment will also vary – you might paint over each eye in its entirety, for instance.
You can see the area where I painted under the red overlay in her camera right eye. Want to see the red overlay on your own photo? Type O. Type O again to turn off the red overlay.
After painting, you can always go back and tweak your slider settings. Just make sure the pin that controls this adjustment brush edit is active for editing. It needs to have a black circle in the middle, like this:
Don’t see your pins? Make sure the Adjustment brush is active for editing (K). Then type H (for Hide) to unhide the pins. You can type H again to hide the pins when they get in your way.
Here is my before and after on this edit:
Pop the Iris
The next step in an eye edit is to bring out those irises – make them capture the attention of your viewers.
We’ll use the Local Adjustment Brush again, so make sure to click on the New button at the top right of your brush settings. Otherwise, you’ll change the settings that you applied to brighten the eyes, rather than creating a new edit for the irises. Next, double click on the word “Effect” to reset all of the sliders to 0. Both “New” and “Effect” are circled below.
To adjust the iris, use the Contrast & Saturation sliders and brush over the iris only – avoid the pupil.
Just like brightening the eyes, you can adjust the strength of your sliders to suit your particular photo. My adjustments above probably won’t work for your image.
Here is a before and after on the iris pop:
Make sure you don’t go overboard with this edit. Those eyes will start looking funny fast!
Whiten Eyes in Lightroom
If the eyes in your photo need whitening, it takes another simple adjustment brush. Click the New button, then double click on Effect to reset the sliders back to 0. Depending on your whitening needs, you might be able to get away with reducing the Saturation slider only. If the eyes in the photo are very yellow, add a bit of Blue using the Temp slider. Something like this:
And here is the before and after edit on it. This is another one where you don’t want to go too far – no one has perfectly white eyes.
Pop the Lashes & Eyelines
The next step when you enhance eyes is to pop the dark areas: the lashes, lash line, rim of iris, and maybe even the eye brows. Don’t forget to activate a new brush and reset the sliders to 0.
You can also use the smallest brush size and darken individual lashes. This is more important for close up portraits.
Sharpen Eyes in Lightroom
Even when the eyes in your photos are tack sharp on camera, adding extra sharpening in Lightroom will add the sparkle we expect to see in good portraits. Add a new brush and reset the sliders to 0 to begin.
Sharpening and Clarity are the primary sliders you need for this edit. Clarity sometimes darkens the area as well – if so, offset the darkness with a slight Shadows increase.
The lashes and rim of iris always need sharpening. You can sharpen the whites also, but make sure it’s really necessary.
Remove Dark Circles in Lightroom
The Lightroom Local Adjustment brush works well for removing or minimizing dark circles too. As usual, add a new brush and reset the sliders to 0.
The key to removing dark circles is to lighten and soften them. You can see example settings in the screen shot above, and below is more important info about each slider.
- Tint – green is the magic color for neutralizing dark circles. Why? Most circles have a purple hue, and green and purple are opposites in color correcting.
- Exposure – a very slight increase here lightens the darkness.
- Shadows – ditto
- Clarity – Soften the undereye area slightly to de-emphasize the area.
- Saturation – be careful with this one. If your adjustment is too strong, it makes the under eye area look gray.
- Sharpness – reducing this slider slightly will offset any global sharpening applied to your photo.
How to Edit Eyes in Lightroom: Before and After
Here is a before and after on the photo I’ve been working on:
And this next photo shows each separate adjustment brush pin that I added:
Add Catchlights to Eyes in Lightroom
You can also use Lightroom to add or enhance catchlights in eyes. Increase Exposure a good bit for this one, and use healthy amounts of Highlights and Whites tool
You want the catchlights to be in the same location in both eyes. So paint on the same spot on each eye, or, if you only need to add a catchlight to one eye, make sure it’s in a location that corresponds to the existing catchlight from the other eye.
Fix Raccoon Eyes in Lightroom
Brightening raccoon eyes in Lightroom is a lot like brightening the eye itself. You’ll use this method when the entire eye socket is too dark. Focus on the Exposure & Shadows slider.
Be careful with Shadows here – if you push it too high, it will make skin look orange or pink.
How to Edit Eyes in Lightroom vs. Elements: Eye Edits
If you read the Elements tutorials I linked to above, you’ll find that you can do just about everything in Lightroom that I mentioned for Elements. There are 2 exceptions:
- Removing glare from glasses is easier in Elements due to the detailed clone stamp work or copying & pasting that you need to do.
- Widening eyes requires the Liquify filter in Elements.
Local Adjustment Brush Tips:
- If you need to erase an area that you painted, hold down Alt or Option to put the brush into erase mode.
- Turn on the Automask feature to contrain your edits to the edges of the area you are painting. Be careful though – it can work too well. If you see “paint pits” or an uneven application of the effect, try turning it off and repainting:
- Want more info on using Lightroom’s adjustment brush? My Top 10 Tips are here. And this tutorial is a good introduction if you are just starting out.
Once you learn how to edit eyes in Lightroom, you’ve mastered the most important part of retouching a portrait.