How to Make Eyes POP in PSE 12

After Eye Pop

The eyes are one of–if not the–most important part of your pictures. They need to be perfectly focused. They need to have light reflection. They need to stand out. They come in so many shapes, colors, and sizes–not to mention being the window to the soul–that they’re worth a little bit of extra attention when it comes to editing. But you’ve got to be careful or they can end up looking PDF (Pretty Dang Freaky).

So here’s my personal process for making the eyes stand out, without making them look unnatural.

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 1

Step 1: Have your photo opened in Expert Mode with the layers panel populated on the right

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 2

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 3


Step 2: Use the selection brush tool to highlight the irises and pupils (ctrl + + is the shortcut to zoom in, to get up close and personal. To adjust the selection tool brush size, use [ and ] or the slider tool in the tool options)

Step 3: Once you’ve highlighted the pupils and irises, press ctrl + j to create a new layer of just the highlighted area.

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 4

Step 4: Click Filter on the tool bar at the very top of the PSE window

Step 5: Click Other

SE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 5

Step 6: Click High Pass. A little box will pop up that will allow you to determine how detailed you want the high pass to be. I usually put mine between 2.5-8 pixels, depending on the photo. And yes, the eyes look sort of alien at this point, but do not despair. It’s only temporary.

Step 7: On the right hand side in the Layers panel, make sure that the new eye layer that you just created is the one selected.

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 5.5

Step 8: Click on the blending mode drop down menu above the layers (which should default to Normal). Change it to Overlay or Soft Light. I use either one depending which one looks best with that particular photo.

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 6

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 7


Step 9:  Next click on the dodge tool, and then in the tool options at the bottom, select Highlights from the Range dropdown menu. Also adjust the exposure to around than 10% and make the brush size is no wider than the iris.

Step 10: Brush the dodge tool around the iris once or twice until satisfied.

PSE 12 Eye Pop Tutorial 8

Step 11: Change the dodge tool to the burn tool in the tool options (not in the tool bar). It’s the one that looks like a little hand pinching something. Change the range to shadows, and exposure to around 10%.

Step 12: Brush the burn tool around the iris once or twice until satisfied.

Before and After Eye Pop

Done! If you would like to see the difference between the original and the layer you created just click on the little eye symbol on the left edge of the layer in the layers panel. When the red line crosses out the eye, that means that layer isn’t visible at the moment, so you can switch it on and off to see the difference. If you happened to go a little overboard with your dodging and burning and the eyes have become PDF, all is not lost. You can lower the opacity of the eye layer to decrease the effect.

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About the author

Cecilia Harvey

I'm a technological enthusiast with a completely unrelated degree in English Literature. I've also been known to dabble in photography and DIY furniture refinishing, with occasional stints of fitness sprinkled among all of the above.

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