The eyes are the windows to the soul…
That quote may be older than dirt, but it remains as true today as it was when it was first uttered. Eyes are bright and shiny, colorful and ever changing, complicated yet so simple. They are fun to photograph, and can be comical, loving, happy, sad, bored, distraught, thoughtful, or any of another million emotions, and often convey more than one at a time. They sparkle by a campfire, widen with surprise, and narrow with anger. They tell you if someone is truthful or lying. They convey depth of feeling even when they’re closed.
Eyes are fun to photograph, and even more so if you get it right.
I believe that rules are meant to be broken, at least in photography. But when it comes to eyes, if you follow the rules, you’ll be happy with the result more often than not.
Let me say first that I’m not writing about photographs that are “just eyes.” I’m thinking more of fuller portraits, either posed or candid. (My own preference in photography is for candids, which require you to be thinking on your feet, and quicker with the camera.)
In either case, when you’re taking pictures of individuals, keep these two things in mind. First, make the nearest eye your point of focus. This is especially important if you have a limited depth of field, and if your subject is not turned directly towards you. (Depth of field is how much of the photograph is in focus, from front to back.) If you don’t heave the nearest eye in focus, the photograph just will not look right, no matter how good the rest of it is, how interesting it is, or how much work you do on it with software.
Your second task is to position your subject, or yourself, or the lighting, to capture a “catchlight” in the eyes. Photographs that have reflected light caught in the eyes are much more interesting, and flatter the subject. Photographs without a catchlight can appear to be dull.
Now if your are posing your subject, you should be able to achieve this relatively easily. All you have to do is put the light source at some angle behind you, or perhaps off to the side. With digital photography, all you have to do is take the picture, review it immediately, and retake it if necessary after moving either the light source or yourself. (Hey, a lamp is easy to move, but if you’re using the sun to light your subject…)
Of course if you’re taking candid pictures/portraits, you need to put yourself in the best position for this before you think about pressing the shutter. If you can get it, great! If you can’t, don’t be afraid to press the shutter release, because you just never know. Some of my personal favorites have no catchlight, because of the strength of character caught in the photo.
Be cautious if you intend to use a flash to provide your catchlight! Full flash on your subject’s face can be less than flattering!
Now the last piece of advice on this subject has more to do with composition, and in my opinion this is much less important.
Try to place your subject one third of the way into the photograph, both from left to right, and top to bottom. As you do this, keep the “negative space”, or empty area on the side that your subject is looking into.
Now the reasons I think this is less important are twofold. First of all, this is something you can do after the picture is taken. There are many, many, many simple and free software applications that allow you to crop, or resize, your photograph. (One of my favorites is Photoscape.) When you crop your photos, you can adjust where your subject sits in the frame.
The second reaon I think composition is less important is that this is one of the rules that I feel needs to be broken on a regular basis. I belive that your composition has to feel right to you, because the photograph you take is a reflection of your view of the world, or in this case your subject.
Sooo…take a look at these, and perhaps guess where they were taken, and what the emotion is…