Ophrys Photography

Wildlife photography by John Devries, Kent UK. Inspirational images from nature.
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Photoshop Tutorials - Eye enhancement

A catchlight in the bird or animal's eye is highly desirable addition to pretty well any portrait shot as it seems to give life to the subject. Eyes are so important in any shot - it is what our eyes are drawn to first in a human face or animal portrait. Firstly, the eyes must be sharp (even if the rest of the subject is not) and secondly it is worth waiting until your subject's head is positioned at just the right angle to reflect the light to produce a catchlight if possible.

The trouble is, it is not an ideal world, and sometimes our subject will not co-operate with head position or there is very little light - as in a forest situation . Some photographers use fill-flash to provide a catchlight, but this means carrying yet more bulky equipment, and adds an extra level of cost and complexity. Additionally, I don't always find that a brilliant white dot in an eye looks particularly natural, as real catchlight is a complex thing when viewed at high magnification (say 100-200 % on the screen as in the example of the whistling duck below) - the eyes act as a mirror, and it is often possible to see a reflection of trees, the sky, clouds and the sun - or even the photographer if you look hard enough!

An alternative to flash, is eye enhancement in post processing. I find this very useful and use it very frequently in my images which don't have much of a catchlight. I should clarify a little here, as what I mean is that if there is a suggestion of a catchlight, I will try to enhance it. If there is absolutely none, I will not try to introduce one artificially, as this never seems to look right. It is perfectly normal for one eye to have a catchlight, and the other to have none, as the head, nose, beak or brow often casts one eye in shadow.

Fortunately, almost every image has a suggestion of a catchlight in the eye that we can bring out subtly to enhance the image. Let's start with an example.

Here is an image of a meadow pipit taken on a dull day :

And here is a 100% crop of the eye area of the bird.

You will notice that there is a small suggestion of a catchlight there but it barely shows up at normal viewing size. This is a good candidate for a little enhancement.

It is very easy to do in this example. Working at 100-200% magnification on the screen, select the dodge tool from the toolbar (it looks like a black magnifying glass and may be hidden beneath the burn or sponge tool - if it is, right click on the and then select the dodge tool).

Next go to the toolbar near the top of the screen and you will see options for "brush, range, and exposure." Use these to select a soft brush (hardness around 20%) and set the range to shadows and the exposure to 4%. Use the Square bracket keys on the keyboard to change the brush diameter to a suitable size - and you are ready to start.

Working in arc movements, gradually paint over the eye in the areas that have some catchlight there. You may find that there is more than one area to enhance. Eyes are spherical, think of light striking a snooker (pool) ball as you work. You are not trying to invent patterns, just bring out what is already buried there in the shadows.

Let's look at another example, this time a crop from picture of a kestrel on a sunless day :

I had to work a bit harder at this one as the catchlight was more complex. I started by using the dodge tool as before, but then I switched to the burn tool (also at 5% and shadows selected) to darken the pupil of the eye a bit to increase the contrast. Finally, I selected the dodge tool again, and adjusted the exposure of it to 8% and selected midtones. I then determined where it looked as though the sun's reflection was brightest in the eye, and lightened up the area a little more. This is the result:

And again at 100%

I think you will agree that this is a worthwhile tweak and brings the image to life just that bit more.



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