Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member
You can dramatically improve your portrait photos by bringing out the sparkle and drama in your subject's eyes. In this movie I'll show you some ways to use Levels adjustment layers to enhance eyes. For some background on Levels adjustment layers you may want to review the earlier movie on that subject in the chapter on correcting photos. I'm going to start by adding one Levels adjustment layer above this Background layer that contains the photo. I'll go up to the Adjustment layer icon, click there, and choose Levels. That adds the Levels 1 adjustment layer, and it opens the Levels controls.
I want to use this Levels adjustment layer to lighten and increase the contrast in the eye that I'm working on. I'm going to work on this eye first. Now when I make this adjustment it's going to affect the whole image at first, but that's okay because in just a moment I'll hide the adjustment from everything except her eye. So I'm keeping my eye on her eye as I make this adjustment. I'm going to take the White slider at the far right of the levels histogram and I'm going to drag it over to the left. I'm going to go pretty far. As I drag the White slider, I'm resetting the white point, and I'm also brightening the entire image, because the gray slider goes with me.
Now to increase the contrast, I'll take the Black slider, and I'm going to drag that over to the right, and then to brighten everything up I'll take the gray slider and I'll drag that slightly to the left. Now of course the entire image doesn't need this adjustment, so I'm going to hide this adjustment from the entire image for a second and then paint it back in just over her eye. To hide the adjustment from the image, I want to fill the layer mask with black. One way to do that is to go up to the Edit menu and down to Fill Layer, and then, to set the Use menu to Black, and click OK, so that hides the adjustment altogether.
Now I'm going to go over and get my Brush Tool, I'll move it over her iris, and I can see it's a little bit small. So I'm going to increase the brush size a bit, and then I'll make sure that I have white paint in my foreground color box. If it's black instead I'll either click this double-pointed arrow, or I'll press X on my keyboard to switch the foreground and background colors. With white paint, I'm going to paint on that layer mask, revealing the adjustment just in the area where I'm painting, inside of her iris. And I'm leaving a little bit of dark around the outside of the iris to make her eye even more dramatic.
The next thing I want to do is to paint in a little bit more of a highlight around the bottom of her iris. I'll use a different Levels adjustment layer to do that. Going back up to the Adjustment layer icon at the top of the Layers panel, and choosing Levels, and that makes a brand- new levels adjustment layer, Levels 2. Rather than drag the sliders in the Levels controls this time I'm going to leave the controls at their defaults, and with that new Levels adjustment layer selected, I'm going to go to the Blend Mode menu at the top of the Layers panel, and from there I'm going to choose the Screen blend mode, and that brightens the entire image.
Of course I don't want this effect on the entire image, so as I did before, I'm going to fill the layer mask on this Levels adjustments layer with black, temporarily. Again, I'll go up to the Edit menu, choose Fill Layer, and we'll use black, and click OK. And as before, I'll get my Brush Tool, make sure my foreground color is set to white, move into to the image to test the size of the brush, I think it's a little bit big, so I'll drag the Size slider over to the left a little bit. And with this smaller, soft-edge brush, I'm going to click and drag a little bit of a white highlight at the bottom of her iris, and I'm also going to paint over the catch light that's here in her eye.
The catch light is the reflection of the light source that the photographer used when taking this picture. To brighten that, I'm just going to click and drag over it a bit. If there were no catch light here at all, I could try to paint one in with a bit of white paint. Now if that's too much sparkle I can always go to that New Levels adjustment layer and reduce its opacity a bit to make it look just a little more natural, and blend those highlights in more with the iris of the subject's eye. There are a couple of other things I would do to this subject's eye. I see that there's a bit of red inside of the white of her eye and along her bottom lid.
I could use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer with the saturation reduced, or, because this is such a small area, I might just go with the Sponge Tool, which I'll select here in the toolbar, and then I'll go down and make sure that its mode is set to Desaturate. I'll move into the image to test my brush size. I see it needs to be a lot smaller so I'll drag the Size slider down, and then I want to be sure to go over to the Layers panel and click on the Background layer, the layer that contains the photo. And now I'm just going to click and drag over the red and the whites of her eyes here, and here, to desaturate that area.
Here I'll make my brush tip a little bit smaller and I'll go just along the rim. And finally, I might sharpen her iris by selecting the Sharpen Tool, which is in the same tool slot as the Blur Tool. With the Sharpen Tool selected, I'll make my brush a little bit bigger, and I'll click and drag over the inside of her iris to just sharpen it up a bit. I'll close that Adjustments panel, and let's do a before and after by holding the Alt key, that's the Option key on the Mac, and clicking the eye icon on the background layer. So there's where I started with this eye, and here's where I finished.
It almost goes without saying that the eyes are the most important part of a portrait. So if you want your subjects to look their best, try some of these techniques that I've shown you here to bring up the sparkle in their eyes.
Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.Become a member
164 Video lessons · 49381 Viewers
64 Video lessons · 84546 Viewers
86 Video lessons · 54402 Viewers
148 Video lessons · 91456 Viewers
Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.
Search within course videos and transcripts, and jump right to the results.
Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.
Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.
Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.
Your file was successfully uploaded.