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Enhancing Iris Color

It is said that the eyes are windows into the soul.  In that case some of us must have really boring souls, but help is at hand if you want to your eyes to really stand out in photographs and creative photo manipulations.   This tutorial details a simple yet powerful technique for altering eye color using basic Photoshop tools and a decent image of an eye.

Step 1: Open up a stock image in Photoshop of any size and/or format. The best results for this tutorial usually involve larger images with a clearly visible iris. If you have a darkly-colored iris, this tutorial may not give you the results that you need without further work. Please note that the image to my right was grabbed from the excellent SXC.HU archive - where there are eye pictures aplenty.

For the sake of this tutorial I will be using a picture in which the iris is NOT perfectly definable.  Many other tutorials on the web involving eye coloring usually use images in which the eye is open wide, making it easy to select the necessary areas with nothing more than the elliptical marquee tool.  I prefer to offer more useful tutorials, so we will not take the easy route here...

Step 2: Using the Elliptical Marquee Tool, make a selection around the eye.  Don't try and capture the iris perfectly now, as that is not the point at this stage.  Just draw a circle around the general area, as I have done in the picture next the step 1. Without losing your selection, click on the quick mask button to enter quick mask mode (its on the bottom of the tools palette).  You will be presented with a scene in which your selection is gone, but in its place is a little transparent area surrounded by a red-tinged area.  That's our mask.

With the Brush Tool selected, bring out a hard-edged black brush with 100% opacity and color in the area AROUND the iris.  You will probably want to zoom in to ensure that your brush work is as precise as possible.  When you are finished you will end up with something that looks like my example to the left.

Step 3:  Click on the Standard Mode button to return back to your original image.  You will now see that you have a nice precise selection around your iris.  If you haven't, go back into Quick Mask Mode and edit some more!

Step 4: Without losing your current selection, create a new layer on top of the underlying background image (Layer > New Layer) and select it in the layers palette. Choose a color for the eye, and Edit > Fill the area in the new layer with your selected color. Once you have done this, change the layer's blending mode to Hue... or, if you are using a greyscale stock, try Color or Multiply. You can then lose your selection.

And there you go - an iris with a brand new funky color!   You may need to adjust your top layer a little to achieve your ideal coloring, as some degree of mixing happens with the color of the original iris in the layer below.  You can also reduce the opacity of the top layer if your new color is a little overpowering.

Photoshop presents us with limitless possibilities, only restricted by the power of our imaginations.  Here are a couple of variations on the above technique, used to achieve stunning and totally unique effects.

The Immortal: Made famous by films such as Underworld, this eye effect is remarkably simple to create.  Instead of losing your selection in step 4, create a new layer on top of all the others and Edit > Fill it with white. Run Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and select a small blur around 5px in size.  Press OK, and change the layer blending mode to Overlay.  You may need to reduce the opacity heavily to achieve a nice effect, as well as use the eraser tool to remove any excessive coloration.   

Now go back to the original stock layer (i.e. the background), Select > Inverse your selection, and bring up the Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation dialog. Lower the saturation by 50%.  If all has gone well, you will now have an image with piercing eye color!

The Possessed: If goody-two-shoes is not your style, you may wish to give yourself an evil eye instead.  In this case, bypass the entire tutorial above and leave your stock image as the sole selected layer.  Use with brush tool with a solid black tip to paint the area inside the iris a deadly black, bearing in mind that some reflections have to be left intact or else you will end up with a decidedly flat effect.   You can easily remove color in reflections by selecting them and then running Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.  Removing the grey fringing is a matter for the Brush Tool or the Eraser Tool.

- Tutorial written by Man1c M0g

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Last 5 User Comments

User:  thebell (#51464)
Date: Thu Jul 10, 2008. 21:31:52

Post #22 of 22

this tutorial is good for scary movie effect - thanks for sharing

Reply to this post

User:  wzeller (#48866)
Date: Wed Mar 19, 2008. 15:15:03

Post #21 of 22

What an excellent tutorial!

I've been a Photoshop user for years, but my usage has always been very, VERY basic. I see all these tutorials online, and I often say to myself, "That one is cool - I've gotta try that some time." Yours was just a perfect mix of coolness and simplicity that it became the very first one I've ever actually done.

And my results were amazing! Now I'll probably go out and do some of those others, as I should have been doing for years.

Thanks so much for taking the time to create this excellent tutorial!


Reply to this post

User:  seppe (#47453)
Date: Mon Jan 21, 2008. 16:33:25

Post #20 of 22

What's the foreground color of the brush in step 2? When I choose white as my foreground it just becomes black and white. I'm sorry, but I don't get this tutorial. :|

Reply to this post

User:  ross_w_thompson (#42139)
Date: Mon May 21, 2007. 20:15:32

Post #19 of 22

The finished product of this can look as subtle or dramatic as you wish it too be. top stuff.

Reply to this post

User:  Risa (#39397)
Date: Thu Mar 15, 2007. 02:24:07

Post #18 of 22

Love learning new ways to make eyes really pop out! Thanks for another

Reply to this post

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