Pearly Whites: How to Easily Whiten Teeth in Photoshop

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It’s Fix-It Friday, so let’s tackle one of the most basic fixes you can make to a portrait: whitening the teeth of your subject. For most people, over time, their teeth start to take on a yellowish tint — it’s normal, but not anyone’s favorite look. Luckily, making the teeth whiter only takes a few minutes, but the simple process can add some youthfulness to your subject, giving your photography some more visual punch.

Original image on the left, whiter teeth on right

The original image is on the left, and the edited image with whiter teeth is on the right. Can you tell the difference?

Less is more

First and foremost, the key with Photoshop is moderation. You aren’t trying to make your subject look fake or like they have fluorescent bulbs for teeth. You’re just trying to create a slightly better version — one where the it is not completely obvious to the viewer that you made a change. Please keep it subtle!

How to whiten teeth in Photoshop

Creating a mask

Whitening teeth is not difficult, but the various techniques are built off of an understanding of masking. Masking allows you to make changes to a part of the image without affecting the whole image or causing permanent adjustment.

To create a mask, first duplicate your background layer by selecting the layer and going to Layer > Duplicate Layer. Then, in the Layers Palette, choose Add Layer Mask. Turn off the background layer so you can only see your duplicate layer. With the layer mask selected in the Layers Palette, use the brush tool to brush over the teeth so they start to disappear.

Once all the teeth are hidden (with the mask selected in the Layers Palette) hit Command + I, which will invert the mask to hide everything except the teeth. At this point, you can turn the background image back on.

Teeth Whiten Mask 1Teeth Whiten Mask2Teeth Whiten Mask3

After you have your mask set up, you can whiten the teeth several different ways.

1. Adjustment Layers: Curves

In the Layers Palette, choose Create New Adjustment Layer > Curves. Then, in the Adjustments Panel, Drag the RGB curve up so that everything gets a little bit brighter. Then, back in the Layers Palette, hold the Option key and drag the teeth mask on to your new adjustment layer mask. It will ask you if you want to replace the mask. Click Yes. Just the teeth should now look brighter. Adjust the opacity of the layer to get the right level of whiteness.

Teeth Whiten CurvesTeeth Whiten Replace Layer Mask

2. Adjustment Layers: HSL

In the Layers Palette, choose Create New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. In the Adjustments Panel, drag the Brightness slider up and the Saturation slider down. The brightness makes the teeth whiter while the saturation adjustment removes yellowness. Replace the layer mask so the adjustments only affect the teeth and then adjust the layer’s opacity to taste.

3. Blending Modes

Create a new layer and fill it with white. Hold Option and drag the teeth layer mask to the white layer. Drag the opacity down to about 50 percent — this will give you a sense for how the blending modes affect the image. Then, in the Layers Palette, change the blending mode of the white layer. You may have to experiment, but good places to start are these modes: Normal, Lighten, Screen, Hard Light, Soft Light and Overlay. Adjust the opacity of the layer to taste.

Teeth Whiten Fill

Final touches

Paying close attention to detail can take your retouching to the next level. Oftentimes, you don’t want the teeth on the sides of the mouth to be as white as the front ones. Since they sit farther back in the shadows, they realistically wouldn’t look as white. Use the brush tool on your layer mask to mask out more of the newly white areas.

Lastly, some people have some teeth that are different shades from the others. Use the same techniques described above — but with a separate mask for the different tooth — to bring some uniformity to the shades of the teeth.

Fix It Friday

That’s it! Easy, right? Join us next week for another Fix-It Friday for another easy fix to common photo problems.

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