A reader recently asked how to edit eyes in Photoshop Elements. Great question!
In portraits, eyes are usually the focal point of the image. That means that people looking at your photo will look at the eyes first. If those eyes are dull or soft, the entire image will lose some of its impact.
Photoshop Elements has many tools for improving eyes. This tutorial gives you my favorites: the easiest, most beautiful methods I know to edit eyes.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 1: Brighten
Because eyes are set into their sockets, they are often darker than the rest of the face. The on-camera remedy for this, of course, is to shoot with a reflector or flash. But when that doesn’t happen, you can brighten eyes with a Levels layer.
By the way, the photo I’m using for this tutorial is a self-portrait. I don’t usually have pink hair or carry a wand – I dressed up as Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter for Halloween!
I used my Elinchrom lights for this selfie. The power of the light hitting the left side of my face was a lot lower than the other light – you can see the shading on my face. In the spirit of maintaining a natural look, I don’t want the eye to be equally as bright as the other eye. Just a little brighter.
I’ll use a Levels adjustment layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels) for this edit. I moved the middle slider to the left to brighten, and masked the layer to include only the darker side of the eye. For this image, I brightened only my eyeball. Other images might need you to brighten the entire eye socket.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 2: Pop the Catchlights
Catchlights are an important indicator of good exposure and add life to an image. To enhance the catchlights in your photo, add another Levels layer. Move the Highlights slider to the left. Mask this adjustment to only the catchlights in your image. Make sure not to paint beyond the existing catchlights – it won’t look good.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 3: Whiten
Step 1 will often be enough to whiten eyes. If not, use a Hue/Saturation layer (Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation). Your settings will look something like the image below. Note that you are both desaturating and adding lightness. Mask this layer to just the whites of the eye.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 4: Saturate
For a natural looking color pop, use another Hue/Saturation layer. On this layer, increase Saturation and mask it to just the iris. Avoid the pupil and the whites of the eyes. This method works particularly well with light eyes. It’s often hard to see its effect on dark eyes.
Alternatively, you can get a more intense color pop using a Color Fill layer. Click on the image’s background layer to activate it for editing. Grab the eyedropper tool (I) and click on the iris to select a color that you’d like to intensify. Next, add a Color Fill Adjustment Layer (Layer>New Fill Layer>Solid Color).
Next, increase both the Saturation (S) and Brightness (B) fields in this box by 10-20%. Hit ok, and type command/control I to invert the mask. Change the Blend Mode of the layer to Soft Light and mask in just the iris of the eye. You’ll need to reduce the opacity of the layer significantly. For an even more natural look, change your brush type to stipple dense when painting on the mask. It will replicate the natural tonal variations of the eye.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 5: Liner & Lashes
Next we’ll add a little contrast by darkening the rim of the iris, the eyeline and the lashes. This edit is effective on either women or men – just make sure not to apply it too strongly, unless you want to add make-up.
Add a Levels layer and move the Blacks slider to the right. Using a very small soft round brush, mask this edit to the rim of the iris and the eyeline. You can enhance existing eyelashes or draw in new lashes (if your hand is steady enough). Reduce the layer’s opacity if needed.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 6: Red Eye
Red eyes in photos are rare these days. However, if you find red eyes in your photo, PSE has a great tool for you to fix them. First, duplicate your Background layer by typing command/control J. Next, grab the Red Eye tool from your toolbox. Click and drag over each red pupil and Elements will fix them automatically.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 7: Sharpen
Sharpening probably gives you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to popping eyes in your photos. This one edit should be applied to just about every close up portrait. While you can sharpen an entire image, it often doesn’t hurt to add a little extra sharpening to the eyes alone. The benefit of sharpening the eyes only is that you can sharpen a little more than you would the rest of the image.
To sharpen, we’re going to stamp the visible layers. This creates a layer that is a duplicate of all layers in your image. Click on the top layer and type shift+command+option e (PC: shift+control+alt+e). This new layer is the one you will sharpen. I sharpen using Adjust Sharpness, which you can find on the Enhance menu. Learn how to use it and see my comparison to other sharpening methods here.
When you’ve added sharpness, add a black layer mask (Layer>Layer Mask>Hide All). Using a soft round brush, paint sharpness onto the irises. Sometimes I sharpen the whites as well. Sharpening the whites, however, can accentuate veins and tonal inconsistencies. I often sharpen lashes and the eye line as well, but you do need to use a tiny brush. Here is an example of what happens when your brush isn’t small enough:
See the discoloration on my lash line? Eeek!
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements Step 8: The Most Important Step
Zoom out and look at your image before and after editing to make sure that you haven’t created alien eyes. You can turn off all editing layers by holding down alt/option as you click the eyeball next to the Background layer.
You can see my final layers panel below.
What do you do if your edit is too strong? You’ll need to delete that sharpening layer. Why? It’s a pixel layer, and pixel layers hide the layers underneath. So you’d delete sharpening, adjust the opacity or settings of the underlying layers, and the repeat step 7 to sharpen again. Of course, if your sharpening layer is the only layer that is too strong, you could simply reduce its opacity.
How to Edit Eyes in Photoshop Elements: Summary
When you edit eyes in Photoshop Elements, the most important thing to remember is to keep your edit subtle. Use only the edits that your photo needs, and be careful with your layer masking. These steps will make your photo pop and impress everyone with your photography skills!