It’s all about the eyes – photography tutorial
Every time I meet with a new client, I ask them if they have any “must haves.” If they could think of one image that they could not leave the shoot without, what would it be? Invariably, the response is, “I love what you do with eyes. I want beautiful sparkly eyes.” When I have asked for recommendations for blog tutorials, at the top of the list is a request for how to get sharp, beautiful eyes. So, this post is going to be dedicated to eyes. How to get beautiful, gorgeous eyes.
One of my favorite photographers and instructors, and the person from whom I have learned 99.9% of everything I know about lighting, is a gentleman by the name of Zack Arias. He has no idea who I am, nor that I WORSHIP him. I absolutely love his work and consider every word he mutters to be scripture. OK, so enough about me and my desire for a bromance with Zack. I bring him up only because he once said something that has stuck in mind and has become the gospel of my photography. I don’t remember his exact words, so I’ll paraphrase. It was something along the lines of “light the eyes. If you find yourself rebuilding eyes in photoshop, then you have failed at your job as a photographer.” It might not have been quite so dramatic, but that’s what I got out of his statement. Light the eyes. Get them sharp. Do it at the point of capture. So we’re going to describe below a few tips on how to get beautiful eyes. Not through photoshop techniques, but at the point of capture. Then I’ll give a small tip on giving them a final pop in post if desired. However, as with all post processing techniques, take it easy! It doesn’t take much to severely over do it. If it looks good while your editing it, reduce it by about 75% and it will likely good to the rest of the world .
As stated earlier, the first step is to get some great light in the eyes. How do we get the eyes lit? We have several tools and techniques at our disposal, I’ve listed a few below
- Open shade – if you have a nice bright day, find some great open shade, and take your subject to edge of the shade. The best kind is when you have a single point of entry for the light, like a garage, or alley
- Shoot down on your subject and let the sky fill the eyes with light
- Use a reflector to bounce light into the eyes of the subject. Don’t have a reflector? Look around for any white or silver reflective object. A white shirt, a sidewalk, a garbage can lid
- Off camera flash (this is the one most people shy away from because it seems more complicated, but if you’ll take a little bit of time to learn some basic lighting techniques, it’s one that will never, ever, ever leave you hanging)
The second step in getting beautiful eyes is you’ve got to make them sharp. No amount of post processing or sharpening in Photoshop will make up for an un-sharp eye. It will just look like an over-sharpened blurry eye. Unfortunately this means you’ve got to have good glass. If you don’t have a nice sharp lens, a great (and fairly inexpensive) recommendation would be a 50mm f1.8. You can generally purchase these new for around $100. But get the best 50mm f1.8. If you shoot Nikon, get a Nikon lens, and if you shoot Canon, then well, I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends…jk, you get the point, buy a Canon lens. Get the best glass you can. That’s just my opinion, but I guess that’s why your here, right?
How do you make a sharp eye look sharper? A shallow depth of field. Shoot those eyes at f2.8 or wider. If you nail your focus, they eyes will be sharp, and the rest of the face and image will fall out of focus, making they eyes appear even sharper. However, if you miss your focus, then the opposite happens (and worse)…if the eyes are out of focus, the whole image appears to be out of focus. It’s all about the eyes, people.
Finally, what are some final tweaks to put the finishing touch on a great eye in post? Ultimately my goal in post is not to make a sharper eye, but to get a little more depth. Personally, I don’t want to change the color, or saturation levels, but rather get darker, richer shadows and lighter highlights. This is a tip I learned from Scott Kelby at a training he gave at Photoshop World in Boston a couple years ago. I’ve given a brief example below.
Finally, the last recommendation or tip is to sharpen your images for the web. There are dozens of methods and tutorials out there for this, but every image I upload to the web (including the images you see on this tutorial) have been sharpened for the web. Hopefully this was helpful. Good luck, and happy shooting!!!