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How to photograph eyes: The basics

Have you ever heard the phrase \'Eyes are the window to the soul\'? It cannot be any truer when it comes to photography. The expressions in the eyes of a subject can make for really strong and captivating images. So here are a few pointers on how to photograph eyes well.

eyes1
Photo by Jayati Saha | Fotosocial

Prepare your subject
Spend time with your subjects before the shoot and explain to them what it is you are trying to portray and what the purpose of the shoot is. Tell them about the emotions you want to evoke from the viewers after seeing the photograph. Also let them know that you are going to be focusing on their eyes so they can relax their body and concentrate on being as expressive as possible through their eyes.

eyes2
Photo by Bhavpreet Ghai | Fotosocial

Props to be used
Props like scarves that cover the head and face of the subject can really make their eyes stand out in the photograph. However, not all your subjects might be comfortable wearing such a prop. In such cases the best way to go is to have the subject dress in dull coloured clothing so that nothing else within the frame grabs a viewer’s attention. Similarly, accessories like shiny or brightly coloured earrings should be avoided.

Catchlights
The tiny reflection of the light source seen in the pupils of a subject’s eyes is called a catchlight. A good sharp catchlight can have a stunning effect on the photograph and add a new dimension to the eyes. For good catchlights you need proper lighting. When shooting outdoors, you can get catchlights by placing the subject in a shaded area and making them stand at an angle of about 45 degrees to the sun. When indoors, have the subject look at the window placed directly behind the camera. If you are using artificial lighting, move the lights around for the best catchlights.

eyes3
Photo by Romesh Dhamija | Fotosocial

Avoid direct on-camera flash
On-camera flash is the most unflattering type of artificial light because of the nasty red-eye effect it induces in the subject’s eyes. This is caused due to the direct rectilinear path of the light and the property of the human pupils to dilate. So it is best to avoid direct on-camera flash when photographing eyes. If artificial light must be used, use an off-camera source or modify it such that it bounces off the ceiling to create fill-light rather than a direct flash.

Natural Responses
The best approach to get good eye expressions is to elicit the particular emotional responses from your subject. This can be done by engaging them in a conversation about something that is likely to evoke those emotions such as childhood experiences, happy memories, fun times with friends or maybe discussing about loved ones.

Compose to fill
When your aim is to photograph eyes, why include more only to crop later. Instead practice composing in a manner that only your subject’s eyes fill the frame. This may sound easy but it isn’t as simple. When you compose to fill the frame with only the eyes, you can often end up with odd looking photographs due to the shape of your subject’s face, nose or even the eyebrows. Different levels of zoom work for different subjects. So take a few test shots to determine what kind of composition works best and maintain it for the rest of the shoot.

 

Quick Read:

  • Let your subjects know that you are going to be focusing on their eyes so they can relax their body and concentrate on being as expressive as possible through their eyes.
  • Have the subject dress in dull coloured clothing so that nothing else within the frame grabs a viewer’s attention.
  • The tiny reflection of the light source seen in the pupils of a subject’s eyes is called a catchlight.
  • It is best to avoid direct on-camera flash when photographing eyes because of the red-eye effect they induce.
  • The best approach to get good eye expressions is to elicit the particular emotional responses from your subject.
  • Different levels of zoom work for different subjects. So take a few test shots to determine what kind of composition works best for your subject and maintain it for the rest of the shoot.