1. Light In The Eyes
That old cliche “Get it right in the camera” is a good rule to follow in general. When it comes to eyes, having a good starting image makes all the difference in the world. The key is to have the eyes well exposed and if there is a catch light, that’s even better. NOTE: The catch light does not have to be a light that you have set up, oftentimes when shooting natural light images, the entire sky will become this big, beautiful catch light across the top of the eye.
2. Blemishes On The Eye
I lead off by getting rid of red lines, and any other blemishes in the whites of the eyes. Create a new layer and grab the Clone Stamp tool (S) and set this tool to an opacity of 50%. Next go ahead and sample somewhere on the whites of the eye and, with a series of short strokes, begin painting over the blemishes on the eyes.
3. Add Light
Go Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Curves and hit “OK” then set this Adjustment Layer to the Blend Mode of “Screen”. Grab your Brush tool (B) and set the brush opacity to 10% and choose a small, soft-edged brush. Go Image>Adjustments>Invert to flip the mask color from white to black. We can now use our brush to slowly and carefully paint some light into the eye. I typically add light to the bottom of the iris, brighten up the catch light, and add some light to the whites of the eye JUST outside of the iris. Check out where I point with the arrows in the screenshot below.
4. Add Darkness
To increase the contrast of our eyeball here, we want to darken certain areas of the eye as well. Add another Curves Adjustment Layer like we did a moment ago but set this layer to the Blend Mode “Multiply and Invert the layer mask as we did in the last step. Use the same brush tool to darken the very center of the pupil and trace a small dark line around the very edge of where the iris meets the whites of the eyes also darken the “edges” of the actual eyeball to make these eyeballs look a tiny bit more 3D. You can also add a little darkness to the eyelashes to make them pop a little if you like as well. Check out my screenshot to see where I darkened.
Add a new Vibrance Adjustment Layer and pull a little vibrance out of the image (I’m going with -15). Invert this mask and paint white over the eyes. NOTE: Make sure you’ve set your brush back to 100% opacity for this to work.
6. Add Catchlight to Eyes
Sometimes we want to really accentuate that catch light. To do this we need to create a new catchlight and use it to boost up the sparkle in the eyes. TIP: Be very careful when doing this, you can really make your image look plastic and/or fake if you make the catch light to bold or bright. Create a new layer and grab the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M) and drag out a small ellipse on our layer.
7. Make the Catchlight Work
Fill this selection with white. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + J to duplicate this layer and drag it over to the other eye in the same position on the eye. Keeping out catchlights in the same spot on both eyes will help this look more realistic.
8. Blending to Finish
Set both of these new catchlight layers to the Blend Mode of “Soft Light” and reduce the opacity until it looks good. With these eyes, an opacity of 50% looks great. I also like to add a very subtle blur to the catchlights. I’ve added a 1.5px Gaussian blur to these catchlights to help them blend even more. TIP: Depending on how much “edge” you want to see on the catchlights or the strength, simply adjust the Gaussian blur and opacity for many different possible results.