Changing eye color, without a doubt, has to be one of the most desired alterations people want to make to themselves. A look at the still booming market for colored contact lenses, and now even some surgeries to alter your real eye color are directly indicative of this. Typically, it seems to be people with darker eyes who’d like to have something a little lighter.

A favorite combination is often to pair black or brown hair, normally associated with very dark eyes, with blue, or green. If you’ve ever met anyone who is ‘black Irish’ (no, it’s not a derogatory term), you’ll know they have a beautiful look with fair, sometimes slightly tanned skin, very dark hair, and light eyes. It’s a striking combination. Changing your eye color is no simple thing to achieve in real life, and the contacts don’t ever really look right. So, why not do it in Photoshop? And who better to teach you a method than Aaron Nace.


In this video Aaron walks you through the steps, and talks you through the mental approach to achieving realistic eye color of your choosing, and in typical quirky Aaron fashion, shows you how to go to the edge of normalcy, and blow right by it creating some right-out-of-Avatar SFX eyes.


If your eyes are truly truly dark, or the image is a bit too dark, or a low res file, where you’re unable to actually pull any of the details out of the iris using the curves layer Aaron suggests, there’s not much you can do to add that detail back. I suppose, if you were in the mood to be artistic and tedious, you could use a WACOM pen to draw what you want to see, but good luck getting that to look proper and remotely believable.

So, it’s more something you’d want to get correct in the photography portion – meaning, light the image/face well enough where even dark eyes can pull out detail. You could add a reflector under the eyes, or use a strobe, or position them in such a way to have the light really burst through and brighten the eyes. Here’s a quick shot I took to show how dark-ish eyes can show more detail with a burst of flash.


Also, I would suggest using reference images of the color of eyes you’re creating. What your mind may perceive a particular color eye to look like, may miss the details that are actually there. For example, what we call green eyes, tend to have frays of yellow and orange especially near the pupil, so are not just entirely green. Missing this will undoubtedly leave you with a ruinously unrealistic look. The hues of green can often be different also, and there are often highlights and dark lines that all add up to making a realistic eye color. It’s imperative to use lots of layers to bring these details out.

Action Breakdown

Given that this video is a bit detailed, though easy and simple once given a run through, here is a breakdown of the steps for reference to make it easier.

1. Make a new layer. Then create a curves adjustment layer to go above it.

2. Curves adjustment layer should curve upwards to brighten the overall image. The purpose of this is to be able to see more clearly all the further adjustments, and to allow for after-the-fact adjustments to your targeted area.

3. Generate a selection where the eye (iris) is, using the elliptical marquee tool. The selection should be slightly smaller than the iris itself. Typically, eyes are a little darker around the edge of the iris, and this lends to that.

4. Click on the mask and ivnert (CMD +I) the selection. At this point, you can delete the layer underneath and then invert the mask one final time.

5. The selection will have a hard edge/outline that’s unnatural since the edge of the iris is often soft, so a blur is required to make it look more real. Proceed with Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur, and select a number that provides you with the proper amount of blur to make it look right. This number will vary depending on image size, resolution etc.

*6. This is necessary to ensure all alterations of color are done solely on the eye. First, create a group by hitting CMD+G. Next, copy the current layer mask on to the group by holding ALT/OPT and simply dragging it on top of the group folder. Once you’ve done this, the mask will apply to the entire group.

7. Since the old curves layer is not no longer required, just fill it with white by pressing shift+Delete, and selection ‘Fill with white.’

8. This is where the alteration of color/transformation really begins. By choosing a hue/saturation filter, just use the sliders to create any color you’d like. Desaturating the colors is often a good thing to do to preserve realism.

9. At this point if you find there are parts of the eye, such as the pupil or catchlights that might have been affected by the mask, you can go back and paint in the areas with ease.

10. From here, it’s just going along with your creativity. You can duplicate the layers by dragging the collective group down to the new layer icon, and making the underlying one invisible. You can dodge and burn to give extra depth, and then add colors to certain parts of the iris such as often found around the pupil.

As always, if you are a fan of Aaron’s teachings (and who isn’t?), be sure to check back here for updates, and follow along with Aaron on YouTube and Phlearn. You should also consider becoming quickly adept at Photoshop with the Phlearn Photoshop 101 & 201 sets as they are extremely comprehensive, and will have you quickly doing things with Photoshop you may have otherwise thought too complex, or didn’t even know you could do.

Source: Phlearn