Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Eyes Have It

Focusing on the eye using autofocus points
Focusing on the eye using autofocus points
When taking portraits or animal photos it is important to focus on the eye of the subject. A great photographer, Rick Sammon, says, “If the eyes are not well lit and in sharp focus, you've missed the shot.” There are several reasons why it's a good idea to focus on the eyes; firstly the eyes are the window to the soul, secondly there are a lot of lines and contrast making up the eyes giving your camera’s autofocus a good area to focus on.

Senior Portrait Shoot
Senior Portrait
To achieve the best focus possible on the eyes, you will need to be able to control the autofocus points of your camera. You want to set it to a single focus point. This can be done in most SLRs and some advanced point and shoot cameras. I will not get into the technical side of selecting focus points right now as there are so many different cameras with different ways to select focus points. What you want to do is lock the focus on the eye, using a single focus point that you have selected, and then re-compose the shot while keeping the focus locked on the eye. Be careful doing so when using very shallow depths of field however (f/1.2-f/2.8) as, depending on your focal length, you can shift the focus when you re-compose. If you are using shallow depth of field, it would be better to choose a focus point nearest to where you would the eye in the final composition to be. Some cameras have 5, 9, 19 or even more focus points to chose from.

Alternatively you can focus manually on the eye, however I typically do not. Most of the time I am too concerned with capturing the moment, that in taking the time to manually focus, I might miss it. My camera's autofocus hardly ever disappoints. I feel as though if I focused manually all the time I would probably have more user error (soft images) than the camera would error with autofocus.

Baby Portrait Shoot
Baby Portrait
Another thing to take into consideration is making sure that the eyes are well lit. Whether it is natural light or in a studio, you want to be sure that the whites are white and the iris shows color and texture. You may need to reposition your model, have them tilt their head up a bit, etc. to ensure that the eyes are properly lit.

Pet Portrait
It’s also good practice to focus on the eyes for different subjects including pets, wildlife and candid photos. When you get in the practice of focusing on the eye, it will become innate and your portraits will improve dramatically. Having the eye in focus and emphasized makes the subject more interesting.

Niiice Kitty...
The Eye of the Tiger (had to do it)