Often people comment that they love how I really bring out the eyes in a portrait. Sometimes this is followed by questions about how I do that in Photoshop. Here’s my big secret – I DON’T do that in Photoshop! There are some that do and I’ve seen it REALLY overdone too but the truth is the simplest way to get great eyes that sparkle and “pop” but do not look overprocessed starts when you take the photograph, not afterwards on the computer.
All of the eyes in the pictures that you see here from my website are really pretty much how they looked on the back of my camera when I took the photo (save for the black and white conversion which came later). The reason that these eyes sparkle is the reason that many professional photos look better than amateur snapshots: light. An experienced professional photographer knows how to control and work the light that’s there and how to create light that’s not there. If you want nice eyes then get lots of light in the face and eyes. That is what truly makes eyes sparkle with intensity in a natural way. If you are shooting at mid-day on a sunny day in direct sunlight you won’t get nice eyes. You will get what photographers call “raccoon eyes” which means that the face is bright but the eye sockets are dark because they are in the shade of the brow when the sun is directly overhead. This is one reason I do not schedule outdoor photoshoots between 11am and 5pm. The light is best very close to sunrise and very close to sunset because it is at an angle to the subject instead of overhead and it is being warmed and softened as it is refracted through the gases in the atmosphere and reflected off of clouds.
To get good light in the face you can use a reflector to reflect the ambient light into the face (this could be a $15 collapsible reflector from Amazon or it could even be a piece of paper or foamboard!), you can use a diffuser that softens strong ambient light (like sunlight) or you can use the light from a flash. Sometimes I use a combination of these lights. Some people turn their noses up at using flash but I’m not talking about popping up the flash that’s on your camera and firing away. I’m talking about getting flashes OFF of the camera and flashing through a softbox, umbrella or some other type of diffuser that really softens it and gives it the quality of nice sunlight through a window. Aside from really putting that sparkle in someone’s eyes this also creates what is called a “catchlight” in the eye. That is just a bright area of reflected light that you might see in anyone’s eyes at any given time. Eyes without catchlights tend to look dead and a little zombified. So for great looking eyes you want to get a lot of light in there to add a sparkling catchlight and to really bring out the color of the iris. In the future I’ll have more info on how to get great lighting.
One more thing about getting great-looking eyes is that they MUST be sharp! Blurry eyes don’t have that crisp look. To learn more about getting sharp photos see my previous blog post about taking control of your focus.
Until next time…