How to photograph eyes – a quick guide
Learning how to photograph eyes like a pro will open up your macro photography and improve your portraits at the same time.
Eyes are such a fascinating subject to shoot, but if you get it wrong you’ll miss out on showing these wonderfully complex and beautiful features in all their glory, so let’s dive into our quick guide and show you how it’s done!
The gear you need to photograph eyes
There are a couple of ways to approach this subject: with a macro lens set-up, or as part of a portrait – but we’re going to focus primarily on the macro approach for this guide because that will allow us to study the subject better.
You will need:
- A camera with a hotshoe and macro setting, or a DSLR/CSC with a macro lens
- A light source – either natural window light or a speedlight
- A willing subject!
The technical stuff
You can take a more than passable shot with your smartphone, but for the most spectacular high-quality shots you need to use a macro lens and camera with better image quality.
As with all macro photography, you’re going to need to increase your aperture to at least f/16 because the depth of field gets narrower the closer you are to your subject. This is where a flashgun works wonders because you can shoot very narrow, freeze the action, and take crystal clear images – perfect if you plan on hanging canvases of your shots on your wall.
Using a small handheld softbox will help to create a lovely catchlight in the eye to bring the image to life – without it eyes can look dead and unappealing. If you don’t have a flashgun you can try using window light, which looks lovely but will limit the depth of field you can achieve, so use that to your advantage and play around with shallow depth of field instead.
Aim your focus point on the iris, but be prepared to manually focus by rocking back and forth (this is a recognised macro technique) to get the shot you’re looking for.
Getting up close and personal
It’s important to recognise that your subject may be a little nervous because there’s no escaping it – you’re going to have to get very close to their eyes to take a good shot.
Practicing on your family is a good idea, but if they won’t or can’t sit for you, take some time to build up rapport with your subject before getting too close. Take a few casual portrait shots while you talk to them – all the time asking them questions and engaging with their answers – before asking them if it’s okay to get in closer to photograph their eyes.
As with any new genre of photography, taking your first steps in learning how to photograph eyes will be exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking, but if you follow the tips in our quick guide you’ll soon be taking great images you can be proud of.