Written by Steve Patterson. In this tutorial, we'll learn how to easily whiten and brighten teeth in Photoshop using a simple Hue/Saturation adjustment layer!
In our previous Changing Eye Color in Photoshop tutorial, we used a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to quickly change the color of someone's eyes. Here, we'll be using Hue/Saturation to whiten and brighten teeth. This is another great example of how the exact same tool can be used for different tasks, and why learning how Photoshop works, and why it works, is so much more important than just memorizing a bunch of steps.
Of course, the steps are important, too. So if you're ready, let's learn how to perform some digital teeth whitening in Photoshop. I'll be using Photoshop CS6 here but everything we'll be learning is fully compatible with Photoshop CC. If you're using Photoshop CS5 or earlier, you'll want to follow along with the original version of this tutorial.
Here's the photo I'll be using which I downloaded from Adobe Stock. You can also follow along with an image of your own:
If I zoom in closer, we see that both people are showing a little bit of yellow in their teeth. It's not terrible but it is noticeable, especially with the man on the left. The teeth could use some brightening as well:
As we'll see, we can do both of these things (whiten and brighten teeth) using a single Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Let's get started!
Step 1: Select The Lasso Tool
The first thing we need to do is select the teeth. That way, we'll be able to whiten them without affecting the rest of the image. To select the teeth, grab the Lasso Tool from the Tools panel:
Step 2: Draw A Selection Around The Teeth
If you're working on a photo with two or more people in it, as I am here, you may be tempted to select everyone's teeth at once, trying to whiten them all with a single Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. That sounds like it would save time, but the problem is, everyone's teeth are different and will usually need different amounts of whitening.
You'll get better results if you work on one person at a time, with a separate Hue/Saturation adjustment layer for each person. I'm going to start with the man on the left, and I'll cover each step along the way as I whiten and brighten his teeth. Then, I'll quickly apply the same steps to the woman on the right using a separate Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.
With the Lasso Tool in hand, draw a selection around the teeth. Don't worry if it's not the most accurate selection you've ever drawn because we can easily clean it up later. Just trace around the teeth, staying as close to the edges as possible:
Step 3: Add A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer
With the teeth selected, let's add our Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Click the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
Then choose Hue/Saturation from the list that appears:
Nothing will happen yet with the image, but if we look again in the Layers panel, we see that a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer has been added above the Background layer:
Step 4: Change The Edit Option From Master To Yellows
The controls and options for the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer appear in Photoshop's Properties panel. By default, Hue/Saturation will affect all colors in the image equally. That's because the Edit option near the top of the panel is set to Master:
If we were going to colorize the teeth (which would be a weird thing to do), leaving the option set to Master would be fine. But the reason the teeth don't look white is because they have too much yellow in them, which means we need a way to adjust only the yellows without affecting any other colors.
To do that, click on the box where it currently says "Master", then choose Yellows from the list:
Step 5: Lower The Saturation
Now that we're affecting only the yellows, we can reduce the amount of yellow in the teeth by lowering the saturation. To do that, click on the Saturation slider and begin dragging it to the left. The further you drag to the left, the more you'll desaturate the yellow and the whiter the teeth will appear.
Keep in mind, though, that teeth naturally have some yellow in them. If you drag the Saturation slider all the way to the left (to a value of -100) as I'm doing here:
You'll remove the yellow completely, resulting in teeth that look fake and lifeless:
Rather than removing the yellow completely, keep an eye on your image as you drag the Saturation slider and leave just enough yellow to keep the teeth looking natural. The setting you choose will depend on how yellow the teeth were to begin with. For my image, a Saturation value of around -80 works well:
To better judge the results, you can compare the desaturated version with the original version of the teeth by clicking the adjustment layer's visibility icon (the eyeball icon) in the Layers panel. Click it once to temporarily hide the effects of the adjustment layer and view the original image. Click it again to turn the adjustment layer back on and view the edited version:
Here's a before-and-after comparison showing the difference that the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer has made so far. The left half of the teeth are how they looked originally. The right half are how they look after desaturating most (but not all) of the yellow:
Step 6: Change The Edit Mode Back To Master
So far, so good. We've whitened the teeth. Now, let's brighten them. To do that, switch the Edit option in the Properties panel from Yellows back to Master so we can adjust all colors at once, not just yellows:
Then, click on the Lightness slider and begin dragging it towards the right. The further you drag to the right, the lighter the teeth will appear. Keep an eye on your image as you drag the slider so you don't brighten them too much. For my image, a Lightness value of around +20 works well:
Depending on how accurate your Lasso Tool selection was, you may notice that areas around the teeth are also being lightened, as we can see here in this closeup. There's some unwanted brightening in the lips and gums along the top and bottom of the teeth. We'll clean those areas up next:
Step 7: Select The Brush Tool
One of the nice features of adjustment layers in Photoshop is that they come with a built-in layer mask. If we look at our Hue/Saturation adjustment layer in the Layers panel, we can see the layer mask thumbnail. The thumbnail is filled mostly with black, with only a small area filled with white. The black represents the areas in our image that are not being affected by the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. The white is the area that is being affected. Photoshop used our initial Lasso Tool selection to create the layer mask for us, filling the area we selected (the teeth) with white and filling everything else with black:
Notice that the thumbnail shows a white highlight border around it. The border tells us that the layer mask is currently selected, which means that anything we do next will be done to the mask itself, not to our image. We can easily clean up those problem areas around the teeth by painting on the mask with a brush.
Select Photoshop's Brush Tool from the Tools panel:
Step 8: Set Your Foreground Color To Black
To remove the unwanted brightening around the teeth, we'll need to paint over those areas with black. Photoshop uses our current Foreground color as the color of the brush, which means we need to set our Foreground color to black.
We can see our current Foreground and Background colors in the color swatches near the bottom of the Tools panel. The swatch in the upper left is the Foreground color. The swatch in the lower right is the Background color. First, press the letter D on your keyboard. This resets your Foreground and Background colors to their defaults, making your Foreground color white and your Background color black. To swap them and set your Foreground color to black, press the letter X on your keyboard:
Step 9: Paint Around The Teeth To Clean Up The Area
With the Brush Tool in hand and black as the Foreground color, paint around the teeth to clean up any problem areas. You'll want to use a small, soft-edge brush. You can adjust the size of your brush from the keyboard. To make the brush smaller, press the left bracket key ( [ ) repeatedly. To make it larger, press the right bracket key ( ] ).
To make the edges of your brush softer, press and hold Shift and press the left bracket key repeatedly. To make the edges harder, press and hold Shift and press the right bracket key.
Here, I'm painting along the upper lip and gum line above the teeth. Since we're painting on the layer mask, not on the image itself, we don't see the color of our brush as we paint. Instead, the whitening and brightening effect of the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer is hidden from the areas we paint over:
I'll paint along the bottom edges of the teeth as well to remove the whitening from the lower lip:
If you make a mistake and accidentally paint over the teeth, just press the letter X on your keyboard to swap your Foreground and Background colors. This will set your Foreground color to white. Paint over the mistake to bring back the whitening, then press X again to set your Foreground color back to black and continue painting.
There's also a few small problem areas along the left and right sides of the teeth so I'll clean up those areas as well. Here my result so far:
Fine-Tunning The Brightening Effect
The teeth are looking good for the most part, except for one area. There's three bottom teeth on the right that were initially darker than the others due to the shadows being cast on them. After brightening the teeth with the Lightness slider, those three teeth are now looking faded and washed out:
To fix the problem, I'll reduce the effect of the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on those specific teeth by painting over them with black, but with my brush set to a lower opacity. You'll find the brush's Opacity option in the Options Bar along the top of the screen. By default, the opacity is set to 100%. I'll lower mine down to 50% which I can do just by pressing the number 5 on my keyboard:
Then, with my Foreground color still set to black, I'll paint over those teeth to restore some of their original brightness. If you run into a problem like this and you've lowered your brush opacity to fix it, remember to set the opacity back to 100% when you're done, otherwise you'll get unexpected results the next time you use the brush. You can reset its opacity back to 100% by pressing the number 0 on your keyboard (as long as you still have the Brush Tool selected):
I'll zoom out a little bit so we can see the final result. So far, so good. The man's teeth are looking much better. In fact, with his teeth now whiter, the yellow in the woman's teeth has become more noticeable:
Learn more: Understanding Layer Masks in Photoshop
Using Separate Adjustment Layers For Each Person
As I mentioned earlier, for best results when working on a photo of two or more people, you'll want to whiten and brighten their teeth using a separate Hue/Saturation adjustment layer for each person. Since we've already gone through the details of each step when I corrected the man's teeth, I'll go through them again quickly here with the woman's teeth, just so we can see how to work with multiple adjustment layers.
First, I'll reselect the Lasso Tool from the Tools panel. You can also select the Lasso Tool by pressing the letter L on your keyboard:
Then, I'll draw a selection outline around the woman's teeth:
I'll click the New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
Then I'll once again choose Hue/Saturation from the list:
If we look in the Layers panel, we see that I now have two Hue/Saturation adjustment layers. The one at the very top is the one I just added which I'll be using to whiten the woman's teeth. The one below it is the adjustment layer I used for the man's teeth:
Now that we've added the second adjustment layer, the steps for whitening and brightening her teeth are the same as before. In the Properties panel, I'll change the Edit option from Master to Yellows. Then I'll drag the Saturation slider to the left to reduce, but not completely remove, the yellow from her teeth. For the man's teeth, I lowered the saturation to a value of -80. This time, I don't need to go quite that far. A value of around -70 should do it:
To brighten her teeth, I'll change the Edit option from Yellows back to Master, then I'll increase the Lightness value by dragging the slider towards the right. Her teeth are already fairly bright so I won't push the Lightness value as far this time. I'll increase it to +10:
Finally, I'll select Photoshop's Brush Tool, either from the Tools panel or by pressing the letter B on my keyboard:
With the Brush Tool in hand and black as my Foreground color, I'll use a small, soft-edge brush to paint on the layer mask around her teeth to remove any unwanted brightening from the surrounding areas:
Before And After
And with that, we're done! To compare my edited version with the original version of the image, I'll press and hold my Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key and click on the Background layer's visibility icon:
This tells Photoshop to temporarily hide all layers in the document except the Background layer. With my two Hue/Saturation adjustment layers now turned off, I can see the original image once again:
To turn the adjustment layers back on, press and hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and click again on the Background layer's visibility icon (the empty spot where the eyeball used to be). And here, after brightening the woman's teeth using a separate adjustment layer, is my final teeth-whitening result:
And there we have it! That's how to easily whiten and brighten teeth using a simple Hue/Saturation adjustment layer in Photoshop! Check out our Photo Retouching section for more image editing tutorials!