Category Archives: Photoshop Technique

Adding Sparkle to Eyes

01 OriginalI 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.


Adding Sparkle

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.

01 Start Image02 Cloned out Highlights03 Sponged Iris04 Burned Iris Edges05 Pupil Painted06 Highlight 107 Highlight 2

Making Moons

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.


8 Iris Color Sampled9 Moon Color Selected10 Big Moon Painted11 Big Moon at 8 percent Opacity12 Little Moon Painted13 Little Moon at 8 percent 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.

14  Eyes Painted White15 Whitened Eyes Erased16 Burned Eyelashes

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.

Eyes BeforeEyes After

Final Adjustments

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.

16 Eyes Finished17 Color Boost18 Hair Before18 Hair Highlights

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:

Jeremy OriginalJeremy Final

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.

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Playing with Actions – Artistic Treatments

Just for a change of pace, I thought I would play with some Photoshop actions in my rather large collection. I am a big fan of actions, and on a day-to-day basis I use them for practical things like sharpening images for detail and for print, and they are a huge time saver for repetitive things. But for this post I will concentrate on actions for creating a painting look to a photograph. Most of the examples, if not all, were downloaded from Action Central, are free and have been tested. Actions are easy to install in Photoshop. Here is a link for detailed instructions, but I have found that on my Windows-based machine that once the action is downloaded and unzipped, if necessary, all I have to do is double-click the action from my desktop, or wherever it is located.  The action, which has a .atn file extension, installs automatically and is usable right away, whether I have Photoshop opened or not. For Photoshop Elements users, installation is a little more complicated depending on the version of the software that you have. Doing a Google search will lead you to a place to get instructions, and you could also use the Help feature in the program.  Not all actions will work in Photoshop Elements; it just depends on the attributes of the action (mostly filters) but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Photoshop Window Menu

Photoshop’s Window Menu

A newly installed action will appear in the actions pallet at the bottom of the list of installed actions. If you don’t see the actions pallet in your workspace, just go to the Window menu and check Actions. The actions are displayed in the collapsed dock as a triangle pointing to the right, and to play the action select it and click on the “play” triangle.

Photoshop Actions Pallet

Photoshop’s Actions Pallet

Just a note: you may want to duplicate your original first to preserve it, and change the mode to 8-bit since some of these artistic actions use filters that are not available for 16-bit images.  Just go to the Image menu and select Mode, then 8 bits/channel.

Here is my original image, taken on a trip to Canada in 2005, outside a restaurant on the way to Peggy’s Cove.  Click on any image to see full size.

Original Photo

Original Photo – near Halifax, Nova Scotia 2005

Following are the different artistic treatments of the same photo, all done with the push of a button. I’ve provided detail on some of them so you can appreciate the effects of the actions on a larger scale.

Buds Cardiff Bay ActionBuds Cardiff Bay Action - DetailCmicCartoon ActionCracked Wall Painting ActionIsabels Pastel Sketch-A ActionIsabels Pastel Sketch-B ActionLine and Ink ActionLine and Ink  Action - DetailMaredas Cartoon ActionMaredas Cartoon  Action - DetailMitchs Sketch ActionNeon Nights ActionSharons Colored Sketch ActionSharons Colored Sketch Action - DetailWatercolor ActionWatercolor Tint ActionWatercolor Tint  Action - Detail

You don’t have to stop with the action.  Here is one of the “paintings” where I added a texture, masked out some of the painting and added a signature.

Isabels Pastel Sketch B modified

Also posted in Photoshop Creativity Tagged , , , , |

A Simple Explanation of HDR

For those people who are not all that much into photography and haven’t heard about High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI), it is a photographic technique that has been very popular the last few years. The reason for its popularity is that modern digital cameras can capture, at the very most, 14 stops of light with one exposure, whereas our eyes can see 18 stops of light. Simply, a “stop” is a measurement of light, and for each stop up there is twice the light, and for each stop down, there is half as much light. To overcome this limit of the camera, a photographer will “bracket” their shot, meaning, usually, taking one exposure for the way the camera wants to expose, and then taking at least two more exposures, usually one underexposed by one or two light stops and then one overexposed by one or two light stops. The overexposed shot will better capture details in the dark areas and the under exposure better captures the details in the highlight areas. Then the images, combined, capture a higher range of detail, or “high dynamic range”. Getting this higher dynamic range from three different shots into one image is done with software.

Shooting the Scene for HDR

This is the first image of the bridge taken the way the camera wanted to expose the scene. It was shot at f/8.0 ISO 100 for 2.5 seconds, using a tripod, of course. The highlights in the lampposts were over-exposed to the point that there was no detail at the centers of the lamps, and the dark areas were almost black with little visible detail.

Metered Exposure













The bracketed shots follow and were under and overexposed by two light stops, a standard for HDR capture.  Notice that the same aperture setting was used for all three shots and that the different exposures were achieved by changing only the shutter speed.

-2 EV and +2EVCombining the Exposures with Software

An old-style method is to layer all of the exposures in Photoshop or other image-editing software and to use masks on the different layers to hide or reveal that part of each layer which best contributes to the composite.   This would result in better detail throughout, but is a time-consuming and tedious job. The more recent popular methods to do this include the option in Photoshop’s  “Merge to HDR Pro” and using HDRsoft’s Photomatix Pro. Both of these options will create a 32-bit HDR image, but that is only the first step. Below is a screen shot of what you will see of the 32-bit HDR image in Photoshop. Notice the red arrow underneath the histogram. The HDR viewer in Photoshop includes only a slice of the HDR image based upon the luminance level chosen with the slider.  “Bit depth” you say?  Here is an explanation.

Photoshop Merge to HDR

Below is a screenshot of Photomatix Pro’s HDR viewer. The white arrow in the image is the area being displayed by the viewer pointed to by the red arrow, a very dark portion on the underside of the bridge. Neither of these are very impressive at face value and the first time I tried HDR I thought that it was a waste of time.

Photomatix Pro HDR Viewer

Tonemapping the HDR Image

Because the 32-bit depth HDR image cannot be printed or even viewed with current technology, it needs to be manipulated down to an 8- or 16-bit image that can be viewed on monitors and printed.  That is where tonemapping comes in, and the result can no longer be called a true HDR image.   My preferred method in most cases is to create the 32-bit HDR image in Photomatix Pro and save the result as on “open .exr” file. Then you can go on to the tonemapping. I prefer Photomatix Pro for this step because there are more options and better control than in Photoshop. The reason I save the 32-bit .exr file first is so that I can open it later and tonemap the image multiple times for different effect. This saves the time that it takes for the software to merge the three exposures. The important thing to remember while working with the tonemapping dialog is to keep your eye on the histogram to be sure you are not blowing the highlights or shadows. Another thing to watch for is haloing, usually where light areas bleed out into darker areas. Photomatix Pro has a number of presets, most of which I find pretty useless. I usually start with the default and then start moving the sliders around, oftentimes making an adjustment with one slider, moving another, then going back to adjust the earlier slider. When I get the look I like, I sometimes save it as a preset that I can use again as a starting point with another image.


I don’t think I’ve ever been finished with an image after the tonemapping process. In this particular instance there was a little bit of bleed along the handrails of the bridge that had to be fixed in Photoshop.

Lowry Bridge Bleed fixed

SBuoy Distractionometimes you have to accept some minor flaws in tonemapping because you otherwise like the results. In other cases, I’ve had to layer the tone-mapped image with the underexposed image to recover highlight detail. And even though Photomatix Pro will reduce noise in the images before creating the HDR, the HDR and tonemapping process usually intensifies noise in the image and needs to be dealt with later.



In this image, I also cloned out the little part of the buoy underneath the bridge that was a distraction.

The final image contained much more detail throughout and was much closer to what my eyes actually saw compared with the first “correct” exposure that the camera chose.

Lowry Avenue Bridge Final

Lowry Avenue Bridge Final


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Compositing & the Importance of Shadows

In my neighborhood there is an old farmstead and when driving by, I have been fascinated by this machine, which I later learned was a thresher. The whole contraption looked like some medieval mechanical dragon with wheels and chutes and chains and gears, none of which seemed at all practical. After getting permission from the owner to take photos, I had some fun shooting it. The detail images were fine, but the whole machine had so many distractions in the background that I just couldn’t use it as it was. Because I admired this machine so much, I spent more time than I probably should have masking it from the original photo so that I could composite it with a photo of a field. When I was done with that, it was fun resizing it and moving it around in the composition, but something was missing.



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The Power of Black & White

There is something about converting a color image to black and white that can be pure magic. Removing the distraction of color helps us to see tonal nuances more clearly and helps us appreciate form. I think that black and white can elevate the right photograph to “Art” with a capital “A”.


Yellow Tulip photo beforeWhen I took this picture I knew before I started that ultimately I wanted it to be black and white. The color of the background, black velvet, and the choice of using yellow tulips, as opposed to red with a darker tone, helped to set a starting point for the tonal range that I wanted. Also, the tulips that I used were important in themselves. They were what the florist industry calls “field tulips” and they had very long, flexible stems. I laid the black velvet on the floor in our living room which had a wall of windows letting in the morning sun. I spent some time laying the tulips out in different positions and used a reflector to add light into the dark side of the composition. My tripod allows me to position the center post so that I could shoot straight down and I worked on filling the frame.


tulip photo edit areaThe image had a composition that I liked, so I took it into Photoshop. I always want my flowers to be pristine, and when I am working smart, I will start my Photoshop work by zooming in to 100% and navigate through the whole image to find any flaws. I found a couple of things that I felt were distractions in the color image. Where the stems were entering the vase, I smoothed out a few of the stems that I thought could be distracting by using the clone stamp tool. The other distraction was the stem going out of the picture plane at the top and I fixed that by creating a new layer above the image layer and painting the background color with a small soft brush over the part that was leaving the image.

Black & White Conversion

The next thing that I almost always do is to add a Curves Adjustment layer and click the auto button to see what happens. Sometimes I like what it does and sometimes not. In this case it lightened the blooms, which was good. Then on to a Black & White adjustment layer. Immediately all color is gone, but the magic happens while moving the color sliders to lighten or darken different colors. An alternate to using the color sliders, which I prefer, is moving the target adjustment tool around in the image and dragging it up or down in areas that you want lighter or darker. I added a couple of Curves adjustments after that by creating adjustments that either lightened or darkened and rather than affect the whole image, I filled their layer masks with black and painted small adjustments into the masks with a soft white brush. The result turned out to be an award-winning image for me which I titled, “Tulip Dance”.

the finished black and white image

Tulip Dance


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