It’s All about the Eyes
by Heather Swanner
The first thing I notice about a person when I meet them is their eyes…their color, their shape, their ability to reflect light, their eyelashes, etc. Some people notice a person’s smile; rather, I am drawn to the eyes. In my photographs, I strive to capture my subject’s eyes just the way I see them. As much as I love incorporating props into my sessions, a session is not a session until I’ve captured the window into my subjects’ soul….their eyes! Clients and other newer photographers often ask me how I get the eyes to be so crisp and clear, so I decided to share a few of my techniques with you.
Contrary to what some may think, capturing those gorgeous eyes is not a result of spending lots of time in Photoshop. Rather, it’s all about having your subject in the right kind of light. For me, that light is in the open shade. What do I mean by “open shade”? Basically, it means that I put my subject in the shade (like under an overhang or a tree) while I stand outside of the shaded area and take the picture (meaning that I am often standing in the sun while I take the picture). The area behind me is well-lit and provides a lot of light that bounces back and is reflected in the subjects’ eyes. A big mistake I see photographers make is going too far into the shade to take pictures. If your subject is shaded and you (the photographer) are shaded, then there may not be enough light to be reflected in your subject’s eyes (if you are shooting with natural light). So take a step back, put on your SPF 30, and get out of the shade to take the picture. When shooting this way, I try to make sure that the space behind me is pretty open so that there is even more light that can be reflected back into the subjects eyes. Keep in mind that you don’t want your subject to face the sun in this set up….it’s better for your light source to be behind your subject. In this example, the light is behind the subject (who is standing under a small overhang). When I was taking this photograph, I was standing in the sun.
Another way to maximize the natural catch lights in your subject’s eyes is to have your subjects look up. With the sun behind them, and sky overhead, you will achieve a great amount of reflection if you are above your subject.
If you are shooting in natural light indoors, the best advice I can give is to move your subjects as close to windows as possible. In the following two images, a large window is just to the left of the subjects. Because my preference is to have a little bit of depth to my images, I prefer that my clients not face the window (they are east-facing). I use a reflector just to the right of the subject, and that bounces a lot of light back into the subject’s eyes.
Shooting at a shallow depth of field (for me, that’s around 1.6 to 2.8) allows me to get the eyes in sharp focus while softening the remainder of the image. This really allows the eyes to pop in your image!
Lastly, I OCCASIONALLY (and I said OCCASIONALLY) use some light photoshopping techniques to add just a little more sparkle to the eye. The next image is a SOOC shot that I think is pretty nice without a whole lot of adjustments.
To achieve a little more sparkle in the eyes, I did a quick color balance and lightened the entire image slightly. After that, I dodged the highlights in his irises slightly (at about 4%) just to bring out a little bit more sparkle. If I had touched the whites of his eyes, I am afraid he would have ended up looking creepy! :)
I know that there are tons of Photoshop actions out there to help the eyes pop. The problem is that they often get overused, and the subjects start looking more like aliens than people! My belief is that you will get a much more natural look simply by putting your subject in the right light from the beginning. And if you have to, just remember to keep a light touch when editing the eyes in Photoshop!
Thank You SO much Heather!