Last week one of my readers shared a photo that showed a totally Tucson experience – three bobcats in a mesquite tree. Generally speaking, mesquite trees are not very tall so it was pretty obvious that her sister VERY CLOSE to these bobcats when she made the photo. My experience is that bobcats here are not particularly worried about people but being able to get that close is pretty unusual. Either way, it’s hardly a surprise that in her excitement she started shooting before considering her camera settings and she forgot to turn off the flash for her first photo resulting in a fun image of three bobcats with glowing green eyes. While the situation was unusual, green eye reflections are something we’ve all had from time to time. Fortunately there are a few post-processing tricks that we can use to minimize the problem.
Before getting started it is worth mentioning that the best solution is to avoid these types of reflections in the first place. The tools we use for after the fact corrections are not perfect and the results rarely look completely natural. I’ve shared tips for avoiding green eyes in pets before and you can review those tips here.
I also think it is important to first take a moment to consider what an eye should look like without the reflection. If you are working in a room that is fairly bright, under normal circumstances the pupils should be relatively small and they should be fairly dark – but what else? Notice that this photo has three catch lights – those are really important. In the above photo you can see that I used two square LED light panels (the rectangles on either side of her iris) but notice that there is a third catch light that covers part of her pupil too. In this example the catch light over her pupil is rectangular (the television was on behind me) and that is the kind of detail that you’ll want to replicate. If you use a flash (and of course you did otherwise you wouldn’t be here), then your catch light will just be a small white circle and that will simplify things quite a bit.
Once you know what you want to do, the next step is to fire up your photo editor. I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC and Adobe Photoshop CC but that probably isn’t an option for most of you. Luckily the same idea applies regardless of the application. First you’ll want to use a paint brush and make a small black circle (or ellipse depending on the animal) over the green, and then you’ll want to add a small white dot catch light.
I’ll use this old photo of Lyle for an example because it has a pretty extreme case of green eye so you can fully see the limitations. Ideally your model will have a bit more iris showing because the less iris you see, the less convincing your fix will appear. The next photo shows the simple fix outlined above.
As you can see from this example the technique is not perfect. I made my black dot the same size as the green portion of his eyes and extended the catch light from the corners of his eyes onto the new pupil color. If the eyes were a small detail in an overall larger image then that might be enough to suit your needs but if the eyes are fairly prominent in the image you’ll need to do a bit of extra work to make your fix look a little more realistic. Take another look at the Spring eye above for comparison and you’ll notice that her pupil isn’t actually black but rather is dark with a little bit of texture. Because I’m using Photoshop, one tool that is available is changing the blend mode – this allows me to blend the black and white brush stokes with the underlying eye. Many inexpensive or free tools (for example Photoshop Elements or Gimp) will allow you to do the same.
The blended version is a step in the right direction but as you can see it is not perfect. I could spend a lot more time with the image and I might be able to achieve a better result but given the size of his pupils to begin with, additional gains will be small. That said, the results can be much more convincing with a smaller pupil.
Lightroom has an automated tool that fixes red eye for people or green eye for pets and the results are about the same – the big difference is that it does all of the work for you after you click and drag your cursor over the eye. Another option is to use a program designed specifically for fixing green eyes in animals. One program I’ve used is Pet Eye Pilot. Pet Eye Pilot is designed specifically to fix this problem and it retails for $29.95 however you can try before you buy with a free demo.
There’s one last tool that I want to share with you today. PicMonkey is a free web based photo editor that allows you to upload your photo and make a number of different tweaks to your image. I’m sharing it last today because it did not do a particularly good job with this extreme Lyle example but it does offer some really great tools for touching up photos in an easy to use format. I think it offers a lot to the casual user and I encourage you to give it a try.
Hopefully these tips will get you started on the right path. Let me know if you have any questions.