Sharpening the eyes in Photoshop, Lightroom or Camera is an easily applied effect that can really make your portraits pop. When I sharpen eyes I typically also apply the effect on the eyebrows and eyelashes using a number of different of techniques and depending on which photo editing environment I’m already in. Currently, the methods I use the most are the selective adjustment brush in Lightroom or Camera Raw or the sharpen tool in Photoshop. While all these techniques work well, I find that the sharpen tool in Photoshop is the best. It seems to get everything that much crisper, without creating too much undesirable noise. In this tutorial I’ll quickly go over how I use all of the sharpening techniques and when I would use one over the other.
Lightroom and Camera Raw
The reason I’ve grouped Lightroom (LR) and Camera Raw (CR) is because both piece of software utilize almost all the same sliders and adjustments and from my experience function identically. The only noticeable difference I can identify is the user interface looks slightly different and I find once your in CR, it just runs quicker than LR (although it’s not always worth sending an image to CR from LR).
To apply sharpening in either program is simple. First select the selective adjustment brush (Press K) and double click the word ‘effect’. This resets all the sliders. Next, raise the sharpness to 100%. Now adjust your brush flow and feather to 50%. Now make the size of the brush just slightly smaller than the width of the iris so the brush fits between the outside and inside walls of the iris (it shouldn’t extend into the black of the pupil). When you’ve got the brush ready apply the effect till looks a little too strong. Be sure to zoom in (Ctrl+), for this part . Then pull the sharpness back, while zooming in and out to double check the effect, until it looks right.
If it begins to look a little too noisy, you can play with the noise slider (noise reduction in Camera Raw) or lower the effect till you find what works for you. Just be aware by reducing noise you’ll also soften the effect removing some of the sharpness you’ve just applied.
The Sharpen Tool in Photoshop (CS5+)
Sharpening the eyes and iris in Photoshop is just as easy as in Lightroom and Camera Raw. This is my go to method if I really want the eyes to pop or I’m working in Photoshop already. I’ve been really happy with the results but have only ever having tried this in CS5 and CS6 so I can’t really recommend it for earlier versions. But hey, that doesn’t mean it won’t work so why not give it try.
OK! The first step, open your image and copy the background layer (Ctrl+J). That way you’ll never ruin the original file if you muck-up.
Now select the sharpen tool. It’s the button that looks just like a triangle on the toolbar on the left. There’s no hot key for this tool so if you don’t see you’ll need to right click on the blur tool (it looks like a drop of liquid) 0r the smudge tool (which is a hand pointing down) and then click the triangle. Once you’ve selected the sharpen tool, set the strength of the tool to 50%. This option is below the menu bar at the top of the screen. Next apply the effect. Remember that this tool will sharpen with each pass, so be careful not to overdue it. I usually do 1-2 passes. If you find it looks a little strong you can reduce the opacity of the top layer until your satisfied with the sharpening.
When everything looks all good press Ctrl+Shift+E to merge all layers.