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How to edit eyes in Photoshop

Updated on January 8, 2012

We've all been there. Wondering how photographers make the human eye look amazing. No veins, no redness, and beautiful contrast. I am going to break down one way of editing an eye in Adobe Photoshop CS5.

An image of an eye I took
An image of an eye I took | Source

Above is a picture of the human eye completely unedited. As you can see, it is dark, lacks contrast, and has red veins throughout the eye. There are small imperfections in the skin, which I will touch on briefly--but we're concentrating on the human eye.


I'm not going to get into the debate of RAW vs. JPEG, I shoot in RAW since there is way more information in a RAW file than in a JPEG. So I recommend for this tutorial, finding a RAW file to edit. If you don't have the capability of shooting in RAW, that is fine, a JPEG will work the same, you just wont be able to accomplish one step.


I am using Adobe Photoshop CS5, but these steps should work with Adobe CS4 as well. I am unsure about 3, as I have never used it; but it should be the same.

snapshot of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)
snapshot of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) | Source

Open Adobe Photoshop. Once you have it opened, load your file. The display will be in the ACR which is for RAW file editing. If you open a JPEG, you will not have this screen.

As you can see, the eye is covered in veins and is very flat (lacking contrast). We are going to fix that.

1. Ensure you have the correct white balance. Since I used a strobe, my white balance is set to flash. Slightly muting out the oranges and cooling down the image.

2. Select Open Image. We aren't going to really touch the image in ACR at the moment.


For those using a JPEG file, your image will open automatically in Photoshop.


Your Photoshop should look similar. It doesn't have to be the same, but ensure you have access to your layers, adjustments, and history tools.

From here we are going to work only on the whites of the eyes, removing all the veins. To do this go to your layers panel.


In this panel you should have your background layer. Look towards the bottom and you will see what appears to be a chain, fx, a square with a circle inside, a black and white circle, a manilla folder, a corner folded page, and the trash can.

Select the folded corner page. It is the icon right before the trash can. This will bring up an empty layer.


Your screen should look almost exactly like mine.


The reason why we bring up an empty layer, is so that we can edit the veins in the eye without destroying the original image. This is called editing an image non-destructively. This also allows, in the event you mess up, either easily correcting yourself using certain tools, or deleting the layer entirely and starting over, without any changes you made previously affecting your original image.


Okay, so now that you have your new layer, click on the words and name your layer. I named my eye vein removal. You can name yours whatever you like, just as long as you know what the layer is doing. At the top of the screen in your toolbar, ensure you have the mode on normal, your source on sampled, and your aligned source on current and below.

The reason why you want your aligned source on current and below, is so that your edits transfer to your background layer, and not leave huge blotches and blobs of edited space on your layer.


On the left side of your screen you have a toolbar set. Drag your mouse over the band-aid. If you don't have a band-aid, compare your icon to the icons above and click your mouse on it. Ensure you select the healing brush tool.

This tool allows you to sample from a specific area (usually right around where you want to edit) and takes on not only the pigment, but the detail as well. So be careful when using this tool. You can end up having repetitive patterns, or getting to close to an imperfection and placing it where you use your brush.

Vein removal finished
Vein removal finished | Source

Alright, now that you have finished removing the veins from the eye, your image should look like mine or better. Now we are going to whiten the eyes of the whites a little bit to give the eye a little more depth. To do this you need to create a selection of the whites of the eyes. You can either use the pen tool (which looks like a pen on your tool suite) or the magic wand (which looks like a wand with a little star on top of it). The pen tool is the most accurate way to make a selection. I will show you both ways.

Now that you have chosen which tool you're going to use to whiten the whites of the eyes and have completed the task, I am going to now show you how to add texture and depth back into the eye.


For those using JPEG you will not be able to complete this specific step. I will demonstrate another way to be able to accomplish something similar to the ACR way. So please be patient.

Remember everything is done to your taste. You don't have to follow me exactly. For those who used a JPEG file, I am going to show you how to add contrast back to the eye using the curves layer.


First make a selection of the eye by either using the pen tool (more precise) or the magic wand tool.

Once you have selected the eye, right click and select make selection. Another window will pop up. Set your feather to 3px-5px depending on how soft you want your selection to be. For this my feather is set to 3 px.

Go to your adjustments panel and select curves. This will automatically bring up the curves adjustment with your selection as a layer mask.


Once you have this your going to want to go to your curves adjustment. You will want to make what's called an "S" curve. Depending on what look you are trying to achieve, your curve may look different from mine.


Once you have adjusted your curves level to suit your need, the next thing I'm going to do is adjust the overall brightness of my image. You do not have to do this step, but for my image, it could do with a little brighter lighting.

To do this click on your adjustments tab and select your curves level again. All you have to do is grab from the middle and drag up slowly, until you achieve your desired effect.


If you are still on your curves adjustment for the eye, all you do is hit the arrow on the bottom of the curves adjustment and it will bring you back to the main adjustments. Just select curves again and it will bring up a regular curves adjustment.

Here is the before image
Here is the before image | Source
Here is the after
Here is the after | Source

I did a little bit more tweaking to my final image. Everything I showed you is just a baseline. Don't get frustrated when trying this, as this is new to many people. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and will attempt these simple techniques on your own images!


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    • kerlynb profile image

      kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

      You made it seem so easy. Thanks for the step-by-step explanation. I always get red eyes in my pics so this hub would be useful to me. Voting this useful as it is.

    • mypleasurefantasy profile image

      mypleasurefantasy 5 years ago from Virginia Beach


      I'm glad you found this useful, as I'm pretty horrible at teaching. I will have some more added here soon that delve into the pretty high end world of retouching!! Be sure to check back periodically--and let me know if you have any issues

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