While photographing a resort in Florida, the caps on my two front teeth fell apart, revealing the stubs that had supported them. I was terribly self-conscious of the missing teeth, but no one seemed to notice. I realized that people pay more attention to someone’s teeth when there is spinach in them, lipstick on them or when they appear in a portrait.

Color of teeth

Tooth color depends on its natural pigmentation. Most tooth color comes from the dentin — the yellow to brown colors and the enamel — which has tints that include pink, blue and green. Brown colors can come from fluoridated water while yellow to gray discoloration can happen from receiving drugs like tetracycline.

Advertising whiter teeth

Toothpaste advertising is all about whitening yellowed teeth. Years ago, this jingle was on TV, “You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent …” Smoking was popular then and yellowish teeth stained by nicotine were common. Coffee and tea stains, red wine and others contribute to discoloration that toothpaste ads say they can brighten.

Whiter teeth

Smiling portraits or even selfies are looked at a lot longer than in video or in a live situation. There are two areas to consider about getting teeth whiter — the color of the teeth and brightness.

Digital tooth color adjustment in Photoshop

Making discolored teeth neutral is really easy. Let’s look at how to do this in Photoshop.

This photo shows the problem, yellowish teeth.

White teeth
This man’s natural tooth color is a little bit yellow.

Two adjustment layers are all it takes

The portrait is open in Photoshop. I’ve already duplicated the background layer (Command + J on Mac, Ctrl + J on Windows) and renamed it Retouch. Here you go …

Click the new adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel then choose a Curves layer. Click for a new adjustment layer again and add a Hue/Saturation layer. Click the curves layer to make it active. Change the blending mode to Screen. The whole photo gets a lot brighter.

White teeth
The Screen blending mode makes the photo 2X brighter.

Finish setting this up by clicking on the Curves layer’s layer mask then invert it by pressing Command + I on Mac, or Ctrl + I on Windows. The layer mask turns black and the photo returns to its original brightness. Now click the layer mask on the Hue/Saturation layer. Right-click it then choose delete layer mask. That takes care of the setup.

Paint in the teeth

Highlight the black layer mask on the curves. Choose a soft edge brush from the toolbar. Set its opacity to 100%. Zoom the view into at least 100%; I use 200% personally. Set the foreground color to white and carefully paint over each tooth. As you paint the teeth get really bright.

Once you are finished painting over the teeth, click the Curves layer eye icon to hide the layer. Get the Move tool (V) then drag the layer mask from Curves to Hue/Saturation.

Neutralize the color of the teeth, then brighten them

Go to the Properties panel. Pull the Saturation slider to the left. As you do, watch the teeth color become grayer. Here’s a word of caution, don’t go too far. If the teeth are entirely gray — no underlying color — they will look super fake when they are brightened. Finally, brighten the teeth by moving the Lightness slider to the right. Be very careful not to go too far. Too bright looks terrible.

White Teeth
The Saturation slider removes the color from the teeth. The Lightness slider brightens them.

This is the way I finish the teeth in a portrait that will be used in a print or in a magazine. See what a difference the small amounts of color and brightness adjustments make.

Whiten teeth with artificial intelligence

Whitening teeth in Photoshop is easy enough, but it does take work. When a lot of photos are involved it becomes a lot of work. Fortunately, artificial intelligence in Luminar 4 makes this chore easy.

I open a folder of photos in Luminar 4. Then I click the Edit menu and choose the face icon for Portraits. At the bottom of the enhancement options is a slider named Teeth Whitening. A simple move to the right and the teeth brighten right up without any masking. See for yourself …

White TeethWhite Teeth

When poses change

Luminar 4’s AI sees where the subject’s mouth and teeth are and applies the adjustment evenly to each photo no matter where the lips and teeth are in the frame. First, take a look at the before and after of this woman’s teeth.

Synchronize the teeth whitening

Here’s where Luminar 4 really shines. I adjusted Courtney’s teeth in the photo above. All I have to do to whiten her teeth in all the rest of the photos to sync the setting. Go to the Library then click the grid view. Choose Select All (Command + A on Mac, Ctrl + A on Windows) from the Edit menu. Right click on one of the selected images then choose Sync Adjustments (Command + Shift + S on Mac, Ctrl + Shift + S on Windows) That’s it. Time saver!

White Teeth
Sync the adjustments and the teeth in each pose brighten!

Here are three shots of each pose. Courtney’s teeth sparkle!

My two favorite teeth whitening techniques

There you have them. One for Photoshop that has more control and takes more time. The other is from Luminar. Move the slider and done. Check the results for yourself!

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