How to Brighten Shadowed Eyes in Lightroom

Brightening Shadowed Eyes in Lightroom

Sometimes when taking a photograph, your subjects eyes can end up looking too shadowed, possibly because there wasn't enough reflective surface bouncing light back on his or her face.  Or, perhaps the overall image wasn't exposed well enough, which can make their eyes even darker!

How to Brighten Shadowed Eyes In-Camera

The best way to brighten shadowed eyes is in-camera, by:

  • Slowing down the shutter speed.
  • Increasing the ISO.
  • Opening up the aperture more.
  • Using a reflector or something white in front of the subject can also help by reflecting light back onto your subject. 

Once your image is taken, though, if the eyes are still too dark you will have to fix them in post processing to make them look better.

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How to Brighten Shadowed Eyes in Lightroom

In this tutorial, I will show you how to brighten shadowed eyes in Lightroom using this example image that is a bit underexposed and the eye area is quite shadowed. 

Here is the before image:

How to fix shadows in Lightroom

Step 1. Make Global Adjustments

I usually start my edits by making any needed global adjustments.  Changes made via any of the panels on the right-hand side of the Develop module are considered "global" changes because they affect the entire image, not just part of it.

For this example image, I bumped up the overall exposure in the Basic Panel to +.55, and moved the Shadows Slider to the positive side, around +15.

After making global adjustments, you will likely want to make some small, specific changes to your image, and for that you will have to use:

After making my global adjustments, I now want to use some Lightroom adjustment brushes.  To do this, just click on the brush (below the histogram) to use them.

Where to Find Lightroom Brush Tool

Step 2. Brighten Area Around the Eyes

The image below shows the brush settings I used to lighten her upper and lower lids.  Doing this will not only make her eye area lighter, but will also make her appear more alert and awake (see before/after image further down).  This is the same reason many women use a light concealer below their eyes.

how to brighten a spot in lightroom

Many Lightroom users brighten the whites of the eyes, the pupil and the iris, but forget about the area surrounding the eye.  Personally, I prefer starting with the area around the eyes and then move inward to the eye itself.

Step 3. Brightening the Eyes

After editing the area around her eyes, I brightened the iris and pupil of her eyes (image below).  While I was at it, I added in a bit of sharpening to make them look crisp.

Using Lightroom brushes to brighten and sharpen eyes

Step 4. Remember "Make Small Changes" to Avoid Over Editing

"Less is more" is a good rule of thumb when editing. Its incredibly easy to over edit eyes.  You may think an over edited eyes look amazing and beautiful, but that often comes with a cost - the eyes no longer look real or believable.

Before and After Image

Here is a before/after comparison of my edit.

Before and after brightening dark eyes in Lightroom

After brightening her eye area, I also smoothed her skin using the awesome Skin Smoothing brush from the Pretty Presets Perfect Portrait Brush Collection.

Final edited image:

Portrait edited with Lightroom brushes

Bonus Tip: Understanding Flow and Density

If you are having difficulty seeing any changes when you are using your Lightroom adjustment brushes you either need to increase the sliders, or you need to check your flow and density sliders.  If these sliders are too low, you won't see the effects of your changes.

You can read more about flow and density by clicking over to a tutorial I wrote specifically about brush flow and density.

Below is a screen shot showing where to click to open the brush menu (pink), where to click to access custom brushes (yellow), and where to look for the flow and density sliders (green).

Flow and density for Lightroom brushes

Using Custom Brushes from Pretty Presets

The screen shots I shared for this tutorial show some of the brush settings I used to edit this particular image.  Normally I don't waste time tweaking the brush settings.  I almost always use the fantastic custom brushes that come with the Pretty Presets Perfect Portrait Brush Collection

This awesome collection contains 40 brushes that can be used for portrait editing as well as still-life or landscape photography and comes with 10 brushes that are specific to the eye area alone!

Lightroom Portrait Brushes

Would You Like More Help Editing Portraits?

If you missed our previous three portrait editing tutorials check them out now!  They build on the basic but necessary and important things you need to know when editing portraits and using brushes in Lightroom:

If you would like additional training for our Lightroom Portrait Brushes we have a fantastic, in-depth Lightroom Portrait Brush Training Video you can watch right here.

Do you have any questions or comments about How to Brighten Shadowed in Lightroom?  Just leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

Portrait Lightroom Presets