Video: Please Stop Excessively Retouching a Portrait Subject’s Eyes

We’ve seen too many people retouch the eyes in portraits too much, so please stop.

You know exactly what we’re talking about: portrait photographs where the eyes are super heavily retouched. The whites in the eyes are super white. The iris color is very light. And it makes no sense based on the lighting in the scene. Nothing about it looks natural. We see this a lot online, and it’s excessive. The best step, of course, is to not retouch and to instead just light correctly in the first place. But that’s not always possible. So before you go trying to make someone’s eyes look like a cartoon character’s, check out our video below and please subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Notice the Light on the Face

First off, take notice of the light on someone’s face, and ask yourself a set of questions:

  • What is the facial structure?
  • Will it allow the light to really hit this way when I retouch?
  • Where is the light coming from?
  • How intense is it?
  • How deep-set are their eyes?
  • What’s the shape of their eyes, and how will light affect this?
  • How vast is the light source?
  • How narrow is the light source

Of course, you’re trying to find a way to make the enhancement look natural and not excessive. It’s best to always second guess yourself in this situation. And in case you don’t know the answers, consider this: the light will always be brightest the more it is directly in front of your subject. So, a direct flash will always be most dazzling.

Sometimes this means that to make the eyes look natural in a new light, you need to include a brand new gradient mask fix in there to make the light source seem even more real to life.

Eyes Aren’t Meant to Be Super, Intensely White

Know this fact first and foremost; the white of someone’s eyes is not entirely white. They’re some shade of it, or there are red veins, etc. So you shouldn’t try to make the eyes something that they’re not. Instead, a bit of enhancement makes someone look better. Also, consider the nature of the image and what it’s being used for. If someone is going to put this image on a social media or dating profile, then it’s going to be a bit misleading. Of course, it’s not as bad as slimming and other shaming tendencies. But it’s definitely not true to life.

Underdo It, No Matter What

My golden rule with retouching and enhancing eyes is under-developing them no matter what. If you think you’re not going overboard, there’s a chance that you still are doing so. Further, you also don’t need to do things like excessively saturate the color of them. In fact, that’s just misleading. The best thing to do sometimes is to edit, go away from the computer and do something else, and come back to the image later on. Sometimes your software might not render the latest edit correctly either. I’ve had this happen in Lightroom and Photoshop, but never with Capture One Pro. It’s yet another reason why I prefer the program.

Give this a try, and let us know how it fares for you in the comments below.