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Portrait Re-touching Part 3: Whitening Teeth and Brightening Eyes in Lightroom

In the first step of this tutorial, we looked at how to remove blemishes in Lightroom. We cleaned up Mario’s face a little, removing some spots and a slight scratch/scar. ┬áThen, we used the adjustment brush to apply some negative clarity and smooth out his skin.

At this point, he looks pretty good. This is no magazine cover, but it’s a subtly retouched photo that’s perfect for editorial uses. In this case, Mario’s eyes and teeth look fine. But, for some people, a little whitening in one or both areas will go a long way. So, just for the heck of it, let’s see what tool we have in Lightroom to help us do that…

Adjustment Brush, Again

In regular Adobe Photoshop, this would be a great place to use the dodge and burn tools. A normal step in the portrait re-touching workflow would be to dodge and burn around the eyes, whitening the whites a little bit and darkening the iris a little bit. It adds some contrast and pop to the picture.

But alas, no dodge/burn in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Those are pixel-based editing tools, and that doesn’t fit with Lightroom’s mojo. There is, however, a similar thing you can do with the adjustment brush. In the picture above, I selected the adjustment brush and zoomed in 2:! so that the eye filled most of the frame. I re-sized the brush that it was small and tried to neatly paint in the white part of Mario’s right eye. I went outside the lines a bit, and I switched to the “erase” brush to clean up the edges…

Once I had painted the area in, I ticked off the “Show Selected Mask Overlay” (that’s the reason his eye looks red in the picture to the top left) so that I could see what I was doing. Then I played with the sliders a bit to whiten his eye and remove any redness that was there.

I increased the exposure a bit first, for some subtle brightening. Then, I used the Brightness slider a bit, just for the heck of it. Finally, I desaturated a little to take out the redness. You can see the final settings I picked in the screenshot.

I’ve seen portrait re-touchers burn around the iris a bit to darken it and add contrast within the eye. You can achieve the same effect by painting a small adjustment brush around the edge of the iris and decreasing the exposure by a little bit (about a third of a stop should be nice and subtle).

Know When to Stop

The key here is to know when to stop. I was once fiddling with a picture of a football player, and I decided to whiten his eyes a little bit. I went overboard, and the extra-bright eyeball compared to his dark skin looked just a tad freaky.

Every so often, make sure you zoom out to get the full effect of your work and make sure you haven’t over-brightened something. Now that I look at it, I do think a little whitening to his eyes and teeth helped, but it’s definitely subtle. It wasn’t 100% necessary, but it looks good… and I stopped before I went too far!

That’s a good general mantra for portrait re-touching, too. At some point, just put it down. You can’t turn something craptastic into a masterpiece. More often than not, you should be able to pull a decent picture into Lightroom, take 5 or 10 minutes to touch up someone’s face, and be done with it. If that’s your goal, this simple three-part workflow should be right up your alley.

In case you jumped in at the end of the tutorial, you might want to go the first page, How to Retouch Faces and Portraits in Lightroom.

Go back: Portrait Re-touching Part 2: Softening Skim in Lightroom.

Filed Under: How to Process Your Images

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About Digital Photography How To

Digital Photography How To is intended to be a guide to people learning how to use their digital SLR cameras. Three years ago, I had never picked up a camera; now, I produce a yearbook every year and I moonlight as a professional photographer.

I write this website to share what I've learned in that time. The topics will range from truly beginners topics, to tutorials for post processing, to resources for yearbook and graphic design, to thoughts on transitioning from a hobbyist to a professional. Keep up to date by subscribing to the RSS feed.

About the Author

Digital Photography How To is written by Brian Rock. In addition to being a photographer, he's an educator. He teaches high school history, he's the advisor of the school yearbook, and he trains his kids to do all of the photography for the yearbook.

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