Whitening Teeth

A person’s smile is probably one of the first things others notice, so who wouldn’t want to look younger and more attractive by having whiter teeth? The problem is, if you over-whiten teeth, they can become a distraction. (If the only things you notice in an image are the teeth, they’re too white!) That being said, we wouldn’t whiten teeth on a family portrait as much as we would when retouching a photo of a fashion model.


Step 1

Whitening Teeth Step 1

Open up the image you want to work on, press Command-1 (PC: Control-1) or double-click the Zoom Tool to bring the image to 100%. Select the upper left corner of the Color Picker (the whitest white). Then select the Brush Tool B and adjust the Hardness to anywhere between 0-20%, and make the Size just a little smaller than the width of the tooth you are working on (we made the Size larger on the front teeth and smaller on the back teeth). Adjust the Opacity to 18%.


Step 2

Whitening Teeth Step 2

With the Brush Tool, quickly go over the surface of each tooth, one at a time. In this example, the lower teeth are clearly visible and well lit, so we will also go over each of the lower teeth. (In most cases the lower teeth are in the shadow of the upper teeth and it looks unnatural to make the lower teeth as white as the upper teeth.)


Step 3

Whitening Teeth Step 3

If you decide the teeth should be whiter (and we do in this case), go over each tooth a second time. (If you prefer, you can start over and start with a higher Opacity. We prefer to whiten in stages in order to control how much white is applied). If you make a mistake by going outside line of the teeth, use the History Brush Tool Y to clean it up.


Step 4

Whitening Eyes Teeth 4

Select the Clone Stamp Tool S at 30% Opacity and clean up any discolorations on the teeth and gums and any bright, distracting light reflections. It’s personal preference whether or not to have light reflections on the teeth and gums. In the first example, we eliminated all reflections. In the second example, we brought back some of reflections using the History Brush Tool at 30% Opacity and 0% Hardness.


Step 5

Whitening Teeth Step 5

Zoom out to see more of the face, and while looking at the image, click at the top of the History Window (in order to see the image as it looked when you first opened it), then click again on 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 perform any other action until you click on the last bar of the History Window and its highlighted again, otherwise, you will erase everything that was showing on the History Panel!) Do the teeth look better and are they still natural (if natural is your goal)? If you decide they look over-done, use the History Brush Tool at about 30% Opacity to bring back some of the original image.


Before & After Whitening Teeth

Before Whitening Teeth
After Whitening Teeth



A beautiful smile can liven up a photo. The amount of whitening you add is up to you, and depends on your subjects. A model’s teeth will most likely need perfection, but family portrait smiles will probably only need brightening and removal of distractions. Say cheese!

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.