Tutorial: Changing eye color in photos

Altering a Person's eye color using Photoshop filters and brushes.

Changing eye color in photos

Photo Retouching Tutorials

Burn & Dodge Tool | Adding Bokeh | Changing Eye Color | Lighting Correction | Color Correction | Setting White-Point

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc.

Changing Eye Color in Photoshop

We are all familiar with the need to alter photographs of people to remove the "red-eye effect" when the photo was taken with a flash. Many newer digital cameras have an automatic red-eye removal filter or a pulsating flash which causes the iris to contract before the shot is fired. These automatic camera features can save a lot of time in retouching, but what if you simply want to change a person's actual eye color, from brown to blue, green or even gray. Or maybe you just want to lighten the iris color to a different shade without changing the color itself?

Fortunately, Photoshop has several ways of approaching the same challenge and in this tutorial we will cover a couple of the easiest methods for achieving natural results with altering a person's eye color, eye shade and while we are at it, removing redness, blood vessels in the bulbar conjunctiva and brightening the "whites" of the eye, also known as the sclera.

Changing Eye Color using Hue/Saturation (Simple Method)

This method is best used when you are only trying to change the "color" (hue) of the eye, and NOT trying to alter the shade (darkness or lightness) of the iris. If you are trying to do both of these - say you are trying to change dark brown eyes into light blue eyes - skip to the next method, and use the "brush" method below. In addition, if the subject's iris contains multiple colors you should use the second method below.

The first step in this tutorial is to isolate the iris of the eye from sclera. Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L), create a selection around the iris as shown in the example below. Try to trace the iris only without going too far into the whites of the eye. Then use the Feather command (Select>Modify>Feather, or F6) to soften the selection by 1 or 2 pixels. Feathering the selection will avoid abrupt changes in color from the altered and unaltered areas of the eye.

Selecting the iris of the eye to change color

Once our selection is made and softened you can hide the selection's "marching ants" by using the Command>H keyboard command. Now we are ready to alter the color of the iris. To accomplish this we will use the Hue/Saturation palette window (Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation or F7). The first example below, Fig. 2 shows the original, unaltered blue eye color. In the next two examples (Fig. 3 and 4) we will use the Hue/Saturation window exclusively to change the color. Notice the positions of the slider bars in each example.

Using hue saturation to change eye color

Technical Note: In Fig. 3 above, you will see that we needed to alter the "Saturation" as well as the Hue when changing the eye color from blue to green. This is due to the fact that Photoshop seems to ramp up the saturation when the hue is altered and it then becomes necessary to lower the saturation level to compensate for this anomaly. You can also use the Color Balance tool to accomplish the same thing but it requires a better understanding of color correction methods.

In Fig. 4 above, we have changed the original blue eye color to brown, but the iris of brown eyes are typically a darker shade than light blue eyes, so it will become necessary to also darken them. In Fig. 4 we are using the Lightness slider in the Hue/Saturation window but this is not the best way to accomplish this task as the Lightness control will darken the area uniformly - something we don't want. Instead, we will use the Curves tool (Image>Adjustments>Curves or F8) to accomplish this.

Eye Color Photoshop retouching before and after

Using Curves to make tonal adjustments to the iris will allow us to selectively darken or lighten the iris without destroying the highlights in the eye (Fig. 5, above). The final before and after samples (above) demonstrate the capabilities of this simple method for changing eye color.

Changing Eye Color using Photoshop Brushes (Complex Method)

This method is best used when you are trying to change both the "color" (hue) of the eye, AND the shade (darkness or lightness) of the iris. There is a little more hand work required with this process and it is easier to accomplish with the use of a drawing tablet as opposed to a mouse or track pad.

This method is also preferable due to the fact that most irises have several colors within them, and the main iris color can transition to a completely different color directly around the pupil. In addition, highlights typically contain blue hues due to the reflection of blue sky in the iris and pupil area.

For our second test subject we are going to change the person's dark brown eyes to a lighter shade of blue. As we did in the previous method, we are going to use the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to create a selection around the iris as shown in Fig. 6 below. Then use the Feather command (Select>Modify>Feather, or F6) to soften the selection by 1 or 2 pixels as before.

Using Photoshop brushes to change eye color

In Fig. 7 you will see that shifting this darker eye color using the global Hue/Saturation tool creates undesirable effects in some areas, shifting blueish highlight colors to a magenta color. Instead, we will use Photoshop's Brush Tool (B) to shift the iris color to a new hue, leaving the highlight colors unaltered. Once we have selected the Brush Tool we will use a 20 pixel diameter soft brush from the Brush Presets palette, changing its "Mode" to "Hue" in the Brush Toolbar's pulldown Mode menu. Set the Brush's Opacity to less than 30% to make subtle changes. Next you will select a neutral sky-blue color using your Swatches palette or the Color Picker palette window. Now we will begin painting the iris area with our blue hue.

Technical Note: If the "Hue" brush mode does not change the color sufficiently - typically due to the original color having low color-saturation - you can change the brush mode to "Color" in the brush toolbar's pulldown "Mode" menu. With a pure color selected from the Swatches palette, you can add as much saturated color as you like. Set the Brush's Opacity to around 10%, as the "Color" mode will add pure color very quickly. If you accidentally add too much color you can use the Sponge Tool (O) set to "Desaturate" in the toolbar's pulldown menu.

Once you are finished altering the eye color you will probably need to lighten the iris a bit. For this task we will use the Curves tool again (Fig. 9) above. Notice how we have not only shifted the middle of the curve uppward but we have also shifted the white point (upper right corner of the curve) up by moving it to the left. This will uniformly lighten the entire iris.

Using Photoshop brushes to change eye color

The last step will be to whiten the white sclera of the eye, removing or lightening any blood vessels, redness, or discoloration. For this task we will use Hue/Saturation to desaturate the white area and Curves (Fig. 10, above) to brighten the whites of her eyes - before and after below.

Eye color retouching before and after 2

Technical Note: The following hardware and software was used in this tutorial: An Apple Mac Pro desktop computer, a Wacom Intuos 6x8 drawing tablet, Adobe Photoshop CS-CS5 photo editing software and a properly calibrated monitor.

Back to: Illustration Tutorials

Copyright © 1996-2012 KHI, Inc. and AutomotiveIllustrations.com. All rights reserved.