Advanced Editing

Brighten faces in photos

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

Bye, bye dull faces! Selectively brightening a face in a photo is a simple editing technique that can bring out detail and make a person glow.

Selectively brightening a face is a relatively simple editing technique that can add a glow to a person in a photo. The technique lets you lighten the face without lightening the entire photo and can be particularly effective when light comes from behind a subject.

The tools you need are available in many photo editing programs, especially those that support layers such as Photoshop.

To brighten a face, follow these steps:

1- Open a copy of your photo and crop and resize the image to the desired dimensions.

2- If you have a program with layering capability, duplicate the background layer.

3- Make any editing adjustments such as levels and sharpening to the duplicate layer.

4- Select the Elliptical Marquee Tool (or similar selection tool) and feather it about six to eight pixels. Feathering softens and blurs the edges by creating a transition boundary between the selected area and the surrounding pixels.

5- Adjust the brightness level. Not too much, though, or the face will look unnatural. If needed, also adjust contrast, usually at a setting less than the brightness setting.

6- Save the photo as a high quality jpeg with a compression level that preserves detail in the photo.

You can select more than one face in an image, or select other elements in the image, such as hair. With additional selections, you can also use this technique to effectively brighten only the eyes.

Multiple selections

The following photo was severely underexposed due to strong backlighting. The bride’s face was selected and brightened. Next, both eyes were selected and slightly brightened to bring out some additional detail (note: the subject was very tan!)

Don’t just stick to brightening human faces

You can use this technique to selectively brighten areas in photos of other subjects too: pets, wildlife, you name it.

The eye was selectively lightened and sharpened

It’s worth repeating that you should not go heavy handed when using this selective processing technique. Even a subtle increase in brightness is effective.


  • Fil, I tried it the other day and it’s quite a nifty program. It can even do multiple faces. I chuckled a bit when I saw it can make you look slimmer or heavier.

  • If you want to do more extensive corrections to faces in your photos,
    there is a freeware program which might be the right tool for the job.

    Even if you do not do such corrections very often it’s certainly worth looking up.


  • Peter, some faces are more difficult to select than others, however it’s not necessary to select the whole face. The trick is using feathering so there is an indistinguishable transition from the center of the face going outward. If you don’t feather the Elliptical Marquee Tool, the lightening will be in the shape of a disk due to the hard edges.


    Sometime I use the Magic Lasso tool, setting the Tolerance level lower (eg. 10 – 15 from the default 32) to  select a few strands of hair to lighten. I do this in a separate step, or steps if needed.


  • The hard part, actually, is to make sure you select the whole face and not the hair or background – it does take some skill to very accurately select a face!