I spent a little time getting to know Jeremy again, an 8 year-old nephew, who I hadn’t seen since he was a toddler. He is very smart for his age and very friendly. Before long, he felt comfortable with me and sat still long enough for some shots. I loved his expression, the pose, and how he looked right at the camera so I decided that adding sparkle to his eyes would be worthwhile.
I always do both eyes at the same time, rather than try to replicate what was done with one eye later, and zoom in as far as possible, keeping both eyes in view. On the background layer the first step was to clone out the existing unimpressive catch lights. Next was to use the sponge tool to lightly saturate the color of the iris, setting the sponge tool to saturate at about 40% opacity. Then the burn tool was used to lightly accentuate the darkness of the outer edges of the iris. This is subtle, but adds just a little more contrast to the whites of the eye, boosting the perception of sharpness. On a new layer that I named “pupil”, the brush tool was used to fill in the pupil after sampling the existing pupil color. On another new layer, that I named “catch light big”, the beginning of the catch light was painted in with a small white brush with about 80% hardness. This should be done going into the pupil slightly and at either 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock, depending on the direction of the light. The most light was coming from the left, so the 10 o’clock position was used, and when done, the opacity of that layer was reduced. On another new layer, named “catch light small”, a smaller dab of white was added over the previous catch light and that layer’s opacity was also reduced.
The color of the iris was sampled and then a much lighter and more saturated color was chosen in the color picker. The color picker becomes active by clicking on the foreground color in the tools pallet. On a new layer named “big moon” a soft brush was used to paint opposite the catch light inside the iris color. The opacity of that layer was reduced. On another new layer named “little moon”, with a slightly smaller brush and the same color, a smaller moon was painted in and then reduced in opacity.
Finishing the Eyes
Another new layer was added and named “whiten eyes”. With a soft white brush, large enough to cover the whole eye, and set at 20% opacity in the toolbar, the brush was moved across each eye. The eraser tool was used to erase all around the outside of the eye and all over the iris to remove the white that spilled into those areas. Again, the opacity was adjusted. Teeth can be brightened the same way. The next step was to burn the eyelashes to bring them out and to add contrast, which also adds to the perception of sharpness. I dodge and burn non-destructively by adding a layer and filling it with 50% gray and changing the blend mode to overlay. With this blend mode, when you paint with black, it will only darken the pixels that are already darker than 50% grey. A very small brush was used at about 7% opacity, and if it is too much, the layer opacity can be reduced. Removing changes made to this layer can be done by painting with a brush filled with 50% gray.
Assessing the Changes
Since all these modifications were done on separate layers that were named along the way, I went back and tweaked the opacity on some of the layers. The idea in the whole exercise is to enhance the eyes in a way that is believable. Having the whites of the eyes too white is not believable. I will take all the eye layers and put them in a group. Then I can toggle the visibility of the group to compare it to the original. If a person adds short descriptive text to name new layers as you go along, it is easier to find a layer you want to modify later.
His face looked he could use a little for color, so with a hue/saturation adjustment layer, his skin was sampled and the saturation was increased slightly. In the same way that the eyelashes were burned above using a 50% gray layer in the overlay blend mode, hair highlights, especially those close to the face, were enhanced by painting with a soft, low opacity white brush.
I saved the layered file and in Lightroom cropped the image and gave it a dark vignette. Here is a comparison of the before and after:
This sounds like a lot of steps that could take some time, but it goes very quickly once you do it a few times and in some instances, I think it is time well spent. If you would like to try this technique yourself, you can download a pdf showing all these steps to add sparkle here: How I Add Sparkle to Eyes-Terry M Butler Clicking on the link will automatically download into your downloads folder. And if you just want to whiten eyes or teeth, just do those steps.