It has been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Unfortunately, when the eyes don’t stand out (for whatever reason . . . and there are many), the window blinds are closed and the eyes can look a little dead. Cleaning up the eye-whites is a way to bring them back to life.
Open the photo and zoom in so both eyes are visible on your screen. Working on the Background Layer, change the Foreground Color to the whitest white by clicking the cursor on the upper left corner of the Color Picker screen. Select the Brush Tool B, adjusting the Size of the Brush [ or ] (left bracket key decreases the brush size; the right bracket key increases the brush size) to a little smaller than the size of the whites of the eyes where they form a triangle at the corners. The Hardness of the Brush is 0% and the Opacity is 20%.
Using the Brush Tool, click and drag the cursor over the white parts of each eye once. It’s okay to go outside of the line of the eye and over the iris somewhat. If you feel the eye whites are still not bright enough, you can either change the Opacity to a higher percentage and start over, or click and drag the cursor over each area one more time using the same settings on the Brush (which is what we did in this example – the total Opacity was 40% because we went over each area twice at 20%).
Select the History Brush Tool Y, making the Brush Size smaller, generally about one-third smaller than the white triangles of the eyes. The Hardness of the History Brush Tool is anywhere between 0-15%. The Opacity is set to about 30%. Click, click, click around the outer edges of the areas you just whitened, which would be along the eyelash/eyelid line, as well as the iris in the center of the eye. You will click numerous times until you get enough of the shadow back around where the eye whites meet the upper eyelids where there are natural shadows.
Zoom out so you can see more of the face, and while looking at the image, click at the top of the History Window (so you can see the image as it looked when you first opened it), then click again at the last bar in the History Window, going back and forth a few times (so you can see the “Before” and “After”). (REMEMBER: do not do any other action that will change the History Window until the last bar of the History Window is highlighted again, otherwise, you will erase everything you have done that was on the History Panel!). Do the eyes look better and are they still natural? If they look good but you still see some distractions like blood vessels, uneven coloration or reflections of light (which happens usually at the inside corners of the eyes and sometimes on the bottom eyelids), go to Step 5.
To remove any other distractions, select the Clone Tool S. Adjust the Size to be smaller or larger, depending on where on the eye you are working. Change the Opacity to about 30% and set the Hardness to between 0-20%. Use the Clone Tool as needed to clean up the distractions, keeping in mind not to completely remove the shadows created by the eyelids. This little shadow keeps the eyes looking natural. If necessary, you can add a bit more shadow by using the Burn Tool O, with the Exposure at about 15% and Hardness at 0%. Again, use the History Panel to check the “Before” and “After” appearance, like you did in Step 4.
Having contrast between the eye color and the whites of the eyes helps the eyes to pop out of the photo! To create more contrast and definition, use the Burn Tool (Exposure at 20-40% and a rather small brush Size – maybe 3) to outline the iris and if needed the lash line. In this example, we only outlined the iris.
Before & After Whitening Eyes
If at any point you feel you’ve made a mistake, take a few steps back on the History Panel or use the History Tool and start over on that section. Play with the settings a little bit, since every image is different. In order to keep the look natural, think of “eye brightening” instead of “eye whitening”, otherwise you may have a tendency to over-whiten the eyes.