I’ve had a few situations with photos that just don’t look right when iPhoto corrects the red eye. The algorithm in iPhoto is sometimes just too sloppy, ruining nearby parts of the photo, especially if there is too much red tone to the skin around the eye. I needed a better way, and here it is.

What you’ll need

  1. A tool with “Instant Alpha”, the feature introduced in OS X Leopard’s Preview.app tool. You could also use Keynote, but I find Preview to be the best
  2. A compositing tool. Compositing is the process of combining two images. I use OmniGraffle for this, but you could also use Keynote, OpenOffice, etc. The key here is that you will need to draw an object and be able to place it behind your photo after applying the Instance Alpha.

Step by step

Try it in iPhoto

Here is my original picture:

Original Red Eye Picture

Original Red Eye Picture

And here is iPhoto’s attempt at red eye reduction:

iPhoto Red Eye Reduction

iPhoto Red Eye Reduction

Note the over-ambitious red eye reduction turning my green/brown eye blue and bruised!

Get the red out

To get the red out, I use OS X’s Preview.app to apply an Instant Alpha filter. This tool is great and gives a lot of control over the size of the selected red area. Open the tool, click and drag starting in the “reddest” part of the red eye, and drag until the entire pupil of the eye is selected by the tool. Repeat for the second eye, then hit the “enter” key to apply the mask. You should see some ghostly white eyes in your picture.

Instant Alpha in Preview.app

Instant Alpha in Preview.app

Red Eye Removed in Preview.app

Red Eye Removed in Preview.app

Get the black in

Okay, so far I’ve gotten the red eye out of your picture, but it’s not anything you’re likely to publish. To do this step, we copy the image into the compositing tool (OmniGraffle in this case). OmniGraffle is what they call an object drawing tool. After copying the image into the tool, we just draw a plan rectangle right over the eyes. Make it big, but smaller than the original picture. Next, change its color to black. You may want to play with the color to get the best result; adding some red to the black will soften any red edges that might have been left during the Instance Alpha stage. Or, you might feel that a deep gray gives better results. You should really zoom in on the eyes to make sure you’re satisfied, because you’re almost done!

Build the Rectangle

Build the Rectangle

Change the Rectangle Color to Black

Change the Rectangle Color to Black

Push the Rectangle Behind the Pic

Push the Rectangle Behind the Pic

Save your new picture

Once you’re satisfied with the picture, use the Export command of your compositing tool to save the image as a JPG. Since it’s a photo, this is the format I highly recommend. You could also use PNG, but JPG will give you the most natural results.

Export Options

Export Options

Final Result

Final Result

Finish it off

It is only at this step that I recommend you bring the new photo into your photo tool (I use iPhoto) to adjust exposure, etc. Adjusting these setting before getting the red out could make the process more difficult. Crop, size, and upload your photo to your favorite service!

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