Apply creative eye effects in Photoshop

Rebecca Greig

Use filters, selections and adjustment layers to give portraits a dramatic touch


There’s a fine line between what’s gimmicky and what’s acceptable when working with filters in Photoshop, so it’s important to tread carefully when it comes to applying effects like these. The key is in being as subtle as possible, and the test for this is by showing a friend the image with the effect applied and asking if they notice anything different. If they haven’t seen the before photo, then they might look twice before hazarding a guess.

Whether you’re aiming to add an air of drama to your portraits or simply looking to enhance eyes in a way that makes them more engaging, follow these steps below to find out how. You’ll learn how to use selections and masks to single out an eye, and then how to apply the Radial Blur filter with a Gaussian Blur to create a soft yet captivating result.


1  Make selection Find the Elliptical Marquee tool (M) from the toolbar. On either one of the eyes, make a round selection to fit just over the iris. While dragging the selection, hold the Spacebar to reposition it.


2   Exclude eyelid If part of the iris is covered by the eyelid, click the Intersect box (fourth box along) in the Options bar. Drag a larger circular selection over the first selection, but chop off the part of the eyelid.


3  Insert new layer Head to the Layer menu and select New>Layer Via Copy. This places just the selected iris onto its own individual layer so that we’re able to work with it separately.


4  Create blur In the Layers palette, hold Cmd/Ctrl and click on the iris’s thumbnail to reactivate its selection. Go to Filter>Blur>Radial Blur and set Amount to 90, Blur Method to Zoom and Quality to Best.


5  Add a mask Hit OK to apply the Radial Blur effect. Hold Cmd/Ctrl and click on the iris’s layer thumbnail to reactivate its selection again, then click on the Add Layer Mask button at the base of Layers palette to apply a mask.


6  Soften the mask Click on the layer mask’s thumbnail and go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Set Radius to 8 pixels and hit OK. This will soften the edge of the Radial Blur effect around the iris.


7  Increase contrast Add a Curves layer from the Adjustments dropdown in the Layers palette. Select Create Clipping Mask in the Layer menu. Move down the lower half of the Curve’s line and push up the upper half.


8 Group and repeat Select both the Curves adjustment and the iris layer, and press Cmd/Ctrl+G to group them. Click on the Background layer, pan over to the other eye and repeat these steps to complete the image.

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