In portrait photography the eyes being tack sharp are important. It isn’t easy until you learn these 4 tips for sharp eyes in portraits. You will learn how to make sure eyes are in focus and how to focus on eyes in photography.
The eyes are nearly always the focal point in portrait photography, as that’s the first thing we are naturally drawn to when looking at an image of a person. There are of course exceptions to this, but if you have a composition where the subject is looking at the camera, chances are you will want the eyes to be sharp and in clear focus! Here are 4 tips to help you get tack-sharp eyes in pictures.
4 Tips for Sharp Eyes in Portraits
1) Make sure that you use an appropriate aperture setting.
First, you need to make sure that you have sufficient depth of field. If you are using a very large aperture, and are quite close to your subject, then the plane (area) of focus can be very, very thin. This means when shooting at lower apertures, you have to be very VERY careful to focus on the eyeball – just a slight “miss” will cause focus to land on the eyebrow, or even on the eyelashes, leading to a slightly “soft” eye. For portrait close ups, it’s usually a lot easier just to close up that aperture a bit to give you a bit more leeway!
More on aperture: Understand and Master Aperture and f/stop
How to make sure eyes are in focus
2) Make sure your focus point is on the eye.
You want to control the point of focus yourself (left to it’s own devices, the camera will just choose whatever is closet to the camera: might be the eye, but more likely to be the nose!) so toggle through your focal points until you get one that hovers over the eye that is nearest the camera. You may need to recompose a little after focusing depending on just how many focus points you have in your camera, to do so, simply press your shutter halfway down to lock focus, and then carefully move to the desired composition. You want to make sure this is just a slight movement though – too much and it can throw your focus off.
3) Watch your shutter speed
Sometimes we think we have missed focus when actually the image is ever so slightly soft due to too slow a shutter speed. Make sure your shutter speed is high enough for the movement of the person – with children it’s better to keep it higher than the minimum recommended speeds. With adults who are happy to sit for you and not squirm and try to escape, you can go a bit lower, but not under 1/125 if you can.
4) Get light on the eyes for sharp eyes in portraits.
You also want to position your subject so that they have light shining into their eyes so you get good “catchlights”. Light makes eyes look alive, and this combined with correct focusing will make them appear beautifully sharp. Turn your subject in a circle until you can see the light hitting their eyes – you’ll see the reflection of the light source in them when it is just right!
If you want a bit deeper of a tip I’d say check out #2 on focal planes for getting tack sharp eyes in your portraits.
I’ve also created a beautiful FREE ebook just for you which gives you some more tips on getting eyes to “pop” which includes a full step by step guide on how to edit the eyes in Lightroom or Photoshop to really bring them to life! Click HERE to get your hands on your free ebook.
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Guest Blogger: Audrey from Life Snap Love
Prakash Arjun says
It’s very useful tips I like it Thanks !
Thank you much, i never thought of that! Just starting my own Protrait Studio
Will keep these in mind, thank you.
Very nice.points on closeup portraits.thanks
Great tips! I have such a hard time remembering to check my shutter speed. I always set the f-stop pretty low, but never capture eyes as sharp as yours, even with my “big girl” camera and 100mm lens. Will have to follow these tips and hope it gets better. Thanks
Cannot download the ebook
Thank you. But I think one important point is missed. It is not enough to get a focus point on the eyes, and not enough too choose minimally sufficient f-stop, shutter speed and not enough to get light on the eyes. All the above are critically important. But if the auto focus is slightly off calibration, all pictures can be ruined. Just do a number of test shots, review at 100% enlargement, and if the eyes are not sharp enough, either get the auto focus calibrated or use manual focus – better in live view with 100% magnification when camera is on tripod. After that you can shoot a few pictures at that exact distance.
Alik Saha says
Thanks, that was actually really helpful. I like point 4 about the light hitting the eyes! xx
I agree with your points and also I submit to the back focus principle too. Does take a little getting used to but i believe there is an increase in sharpness. Lenses have sweet spots which ere centre so don’t go to near the edges if using wide open.
Thank you so much for this input and suggestion. This will be so valuable to other readers as well. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Sara Miller says
Great tips, but I think #2 might be confusing. Choosing the focus points is definitely a must, but it’s not accurate to say that you need to turn off auto focus to do this. Those focus points only work in auto focus mode, not manual focus mode! So don’t let the camera choose with points to use, but DO have the camera set to auto focus (not manual.)