Making Eyes Pop More in a Portrait Using Lightroom

Original Edit

Original Edit

When shooting portraits, we invest loads of money into lighting and lenses in order to get the image as close to perfect as we can. We also tend to put a lot of emphasis on the eyes. But there are ways to make the eyes pop even more if you didn’t get them right the first time. The key to doing it all has to do with subtle corrections, using the spot editing tool in Adobe Lightroom and being moderate. And in the end, it all has to do with contrast.

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To begin, what you’re going to do is bring the image into Adobe Lightroom. Then you’re going to do all the normal and general edits that you’d normally do. This may include working with the overall black levels, exposure levels, sharpness, and individually tweaking the color values. To make this image easier to work with, we cropped it quite a bit. It was originally from the Nikon D810 and used the Zeiss 85mm f1.4 Otus with a LumoPro LP-180 being placed camera right to deliver the lighting effect.

I added sharpness and clarity to the image overall as well as fixed the white balance on top of adding a bit of contrast to make certain parts pop out more. Unfortunately though, I didn’t get Grace’s eyes perfectly in focus–which is a problem that I had with the lens to begin with.

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Next I zoomed in on Grace’s eyes, selected Lightroom’s spot editor (mask) and started lightly painting over her eyes. When I looked at them I said to myself, “What can I do to make these pop even more despite them not being in focus?” The answer to make something look sharper than it really is has to do with the black levels and contrast. Of course, I took all the steps to ensure that the image was sharp right out of the camera, but in this case I didn’t do as well as I could. Still, if you’re not pixel peeping the image it’s still a wonderful shot.

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Once the eyes were selected, I started to tweak the settings a bit more. I raised the exposure levels, contrast, saturation, clarity, sharpness and did some other work. When zoomed in, the eyes looked perfectly fine and beautiful. But there was a problem.

When you look at an image at 100% and then as a whole, it can totally change. And when I zoomed out, there was too much of a change and the eyes looked unnatural. So what I had to do was go back and tweak the values in a more modest fashion. In the end, I only tweaked the contrast, clarity, sharpness, and saturation. But overall, it was a very slow and methodical process that required me to pay careful attention to the image and even call my roommate in to see if anything looked unnatural.

This will vary immensely from image to image, but these parameters are what you’re going to need in order to tweak the look of the eyes. What you could also do is brighten the whites–and even that has to be conservative. It’s also VERY SUBJECTIVE based on how you see the image.

Original Edit

Original Edit Model: Grace Morales

Final Edit. Notice how the eyes are brighter but not by too much and not overpowering. The key is to be subtle.

Final Edit. Notice how the eyes are brighter but not by too much and not overpowering. The key is to be subtle.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.