How to Make Eyes Sparkle in Photoshop {Plus a FREE Action!}

“How do you make eyes sparkle in Photoshop?”  Like everything else in Photoshop, there are numerous ways to do this.  Below is my go-to method for making eyes POP!  There is also a FREE action at the end of the tutorial.

1.  Start with a well-lit image.  Here is a close up of the image we will use:


2.  Add Sharpening.  In this method, you want to over-sharpen so you can paint in the effect at a lower opacity later.

  • Duplicate your background layer
  • Go to Filter -> Sharpen -> Smart Sharpen.  The following settings seem to work well on a hi-res image, but you can adjust this if you need to.  Remeber we are over-sharpening:

3.Now we are going to brighten – but again we are going to over-do it so we can paint in the effect at a lower opacity.  I used a curves layer and pulled up the midtones to brighten:

Yikes!  Here is the effect as a whole on our photo, over-sharpened and over-brightened:

4.  Next we are going to create a Group so we can add a mask.  Highlight the Sharpen layer and the Brighten layer (I renamed those as I was editing) in your layers palette and hit Ctrl/Cmd + G.  Then add a Layer Mask and invert it.  Inverting the mask removes the effect from our photo.  Here is what the Layers Palette looks like with the Group expanded:

5.  All we simply have to do now is to paint on our black layer mask with a soft white brush at a reduced opacity.  I have my brush set at 20% opacity and then paint on the entire eye, avoiding the lids.  Here is the After (if you’re on a computer, roll over the image to see the Before as well):

Since we did lots of extra sharpening and brightening, we have the flexibility to build up the effect or to reduce it down to taste.

Here is the zoomed-out image after editing the eyes (If you’re on a computer, roll over the image to see a comparison with the before):

You can download Polished Picture’s FREE Sparkling Eyes Action here!

Thank you for stopping by.  ;)

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30 Responses to How to Make Eyes Sparkle in Photoshop {Plus a FREE Action!}

  1. Moira says:

    Thank you so much, your tutorials are easy to follow and very helpful! I have learned so much in just 2 hours!

  2. thank you so much! i just bought photoshop 5, and i am looking forward to taking the time to try some of these out. thank you for posting tutorials that are interesting to the feminine eye.

    much love,
    princess genevieve

  3. Angie says:

    You are welcome! Thank you so much for stopping by! :)

  4. Emily says:

    Thank you Angie, not only for creating so many of your steps into free actions but also explaining your steps. Its so important to know how to do these things without relying on actions, but then to have them saved as actions for a quick workflow. Thanks so much! Just wanted to let you know I appreciate it! :)

  5. Jenna says:

    Question! Every time I get to the last step, invert the layer mask, and I try to paint on the eyes….nothing shows up! What am I doing wrong??

    • Angie says:

      Hi Jenna! Make sure that you click on the black mask over in the Layers palette so that it is selected (there will be a ‘box’ around the mask). Then select your brush tool (B), choose a soft round brush, set it at about 20% opacity, and paint on your photo over the eyes. If that doesn’t make sense, please let me know and I will help some more!

  6. Trista says:

    Bookmarked your site for when I had some time to read and found my way back here today. Great reading and fabulous tutorials. Thanks for taking the time to share them. I especially wanted to say a thanks for the actions!! Very generous and very appreciated!

  7. Angie says:

    So glad you stopped back by, Trista!! Thanks for visiting and for the sweet comment!

  8. Kandie says:

    Love-Love-Love this! Thank you!! You made my day. Been working on some wedding pictures where I mistakenly forgot to change my ISO from 3200- UGH!!! As I was looking for something to help me get the best look out the grainy pictures I came across this tool that I will use in many ways. If you have any helpful ideas for PS6 giving a crisp look to this horrible mess up of mine it would be GREATLY appreciated. I have used the noise reduction and it has helped. Maybe someone has as action for a warm luminosity that would help. I don’t know…

    • Angie says:

      Yes, I would recommend using some sort of noise reduction (I like Noiseware) and then applying some soft sharpening. I’d probably go with the high pass filter to sharpen. Good luck!

  9. Michelle K says:

    How did you get the blurred light in the background?

  10. Sandra says:

    Hi Angie, I read all thePhotoshop Basics and thanks to you I finally understood the layer thing (never thought I ever would, hahahaha!). Now I tried the sparkling eye thing – problem is, that I use Photoshop 7 and there is no smart sharpening tool (I suppose that’s why the action doesn’t work either. I also have problems with the brush, but I’m gonna try the tipps you gave above).
    Is there any other way I can sharpen the eyes?
    Thank you so much for this page!

    • Angie says:

      Hi Sandra! Yes, there should still be sharpening options in Photoshop 7. I don’t know where in the menus it would be, but see if you can find the High Pass filter (I have a tutorial here that talks about it: Otherwise you can see if there is an ‘Unsharp Mask’ option. In CS5, it’s under Filter -> Sharpen -> Unsharp Mask. You can play with the sharpening settings. Regardless of your version, there should definitely be some sharpening options that can take the place of the ‘Smart Sharpen’ in this specific tutorial. Good luck!

  11. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the tutorial. I am not able to get it to work for some reason. I followed all of the instructions and everything looks just like what you show above. My brush won’t paint on the photo with the soft white brush for some reason. I hit backslash to see where I’ve worked and it shows nothing (only red). Ideas?

  12. Holly says:

    I just found your site from the creamy skin tuts. Great tutorials & actions! Thanks so much!

  13. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for this! Awesome!!!

  14. McKayla says:

    When I add sharpening it isn’t showing up under my layers tab. Changing the curves does, but sharpening isn’t there so I can’t group the two. What should I do with that?

    • Angie says:

      Hi McKayla! If you’re doing this manually (ie without the action), make sure you duplicate your background layer before applying the sharpening. Otherwise you will be sharpening your background layer, which will not work correctly! Hope that helps! Thanks for visiting! :)

  15. Jessica says:

    What is the best photo editor?

    • Angie says:

      Hi Jessica! I can’t really say what the ‘best’ photo editor is, that depends! The tutorials on my site are done in Photoshop (CS4, CS5) and some in Lightroom. Photoshop Elements is another option that is not as expensive as Photoshop but still very powerful!

  16. Nathalie says:

    I actually came here today to ask for your help because for some reason your action stopped working and I was wondering if you could help me figure out why. I figured it out while trying to re-create the action myself, but decided to write you a quick message anyway: I’ve been using several of your free actions (silky punch, this one, and creamy light are my favorite portrait tools now) for a few months now and I wanted to thank you for them! Your site is the first and only place where I found actions I actually like and use. Many others are too outlandish, too picture-specific to be useful on a variety of photos, or just plain don’t work. I used to download actions by dozens, and literally did not use a single one of them: many didn’t work, others turned up underwhelming results. So, when I saw that you were offering free actions, I was very reluctant to even try them, but your tutorials looked so good and actions were free, so I figured “what do I have to lose?”. And they’ve become a staple in my workflow! Your site is amazing, please, know that the work you do is much appreciated, even if, sometimes, silently. Merry Christmas!

    • Angie says:

      Hi Nathalie! Oh my, thank you so very much for your kind words!! I am so thankful that you have found something useful here!! I really appreciate you letting me know, it made my day. :) So thank you very much, and you have a Merry Christmas!! :)

  17. Susan says:

    Hi Angie,
    I found your sparkling eyes and absolutely love it. My question is, can this action work with photoshop elements 12? Thank you for putting your tutorials out there.

    • Angie says:

      Hi Susan! I don’t have Elements so I cannot test it, but I know some actions of mine DO work in Elements. You can download it to try :)

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