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Enhance the eyes using Lightroom

The first thing your viewers are drawn to are the eyes in a portrait. In this post, we will look at the techniques used in Adobe Lightroom to enhance the eyes and make them pop.

Fig.1. Starting photo

It is basically a 3 steps process using the local adjustment brush. First, we will use the brush to brighten the eyes and to bring out the details in them. Second, we will darken the contour of the iris which will make the eyes pop a little more. Third, we will lighten the whites to remove any yellow color cast from them.

1. Brighten the whole eyes

Click on a new brush tool and reset all sliders. Increase the exposure a bit (not too much, say less than +1) and decrease the highlights to soften any catch light (this is optional). Every photo requires different values of the exposure to brighten the eyes. It depends on the overall tonality, and shadow details. It is also useful to add a little sharpness and clarity. Also consider adding some saturation, especially with colored eyes (fig.2.) Be careful while adding the sliders as this can quick turn into a fake look.

Fig .2. Sliders for brightening the whole eye

Fig .2. Sliders for brightening the whole eye

Fig .3. Paint over the whole eye including the iris and the whites

Fig .3. Paint over the whole eye including the iris and the whites

2. Iris contour

Now let's add a darker ring to the outside of the iris to make the eyes stand out more. To do that, select a new brush, reset all sliders, and decrease the exposure slider, say to - 0.60. Start painting a circle around the iris with a thin brush size (use left [ to reduce the size of the brush). If you made a mistake, hold the Option/Alt key and erase the spilled brush (fig.4.)

Fig.4. If you made a mistake, hold the Option/Alt key and erase the spilled brush.

Fig.4. If you made a mistake, hold the Option/Alt key and erase the spilled brush.

3. Brighten the whites

If the whites aren't so white, use a new brush and reset all sliders. If the eyes are blue or green, decrease the Temperature. Next, we want to eliminate any color cast. For that, we will reduce the Saturation say to around -15 and finally and to make the eyes pop even further, we can also increase the exposure a tiny bit (see fig.5.). Also make sure to check the "Auto Mask" check box in order not to spill the brush strokes outside the whites (see fig.6.).

Fig.5. The sliders needed to brighten the whites

Fig.5. The sliders needed to brighten the whites

Fig.6. With the help of "Auto Mask" paint over the whites

Fig.6. With the help of "Auto Mask" paint over the whites

This is the before and after...

That's it! But remember not to over do it as they will immediately look fake. Show the result to someone else as your eyes will become used to the over-adjustment. It doesn't hurt to seek a second opinion. I have my wife and kids for that job and they became my best critiques. 

Also remember that every photo is unique and the eyes are different from one subject to the other and from one exposure to the other. Don't be afraid to experiment in order to find out what looks best but subtler and use these techniques in moderation.