Where to Focus for Perfect Portraits

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Portrait photographs are much more difficult than beginners think. Shoot, portraits can be more difficult to get right than a lot of pros think! There are a lot of things you have to worry about when you are dealing with portrait photography.

Is the lighting right? How can I soften the light? Does everything look natural? How should I edit this? What are the right poses? What are the right settings?

Like I said, there are a lot of things to worry about when it comes to portrait photography. And that was just after a few seconds of thinking!

One thing that often get forgotten is where to focus for perfect portraits. Too often I see portraits where everything came together, but the focus is slightly off and the photo doesn’t carry the same impact as it could have.

So, where do you focus to capture that perfect portrait photograph?

The Eyes

The eyes are the perfect focal point for portrait photographs. When you are talking to someone or looking at someone as you interact, you are looking at their eyes. It’s the natural place that you are drawn to when you make a connection with someone. That’s why you should be paying close attention to focus on the eyes for perfect portraits.

The majority of portrait photographers use a very wide aperture for their photos. That’s great when you want to show a shallow depth of field. However, it can be very challenging when you are focusing. One slight shift of the camera and your focus (if you’re in autofocus) shifts to the nose or the ear. The photo looks good on the LCD screen of your camera, but when you see it on the computer, you notice the focus was off.

To get the perfect focus on the eyes, I strongly suggest using spot metering paired with autofocus. Using spot metering will tell your lens to focus where the focal point is located. Simply place the focal point you’re using over one of the eyes, then continue holding the shutter halfway down, reframe the shot to hold the focus, and fire away. Perfect focus over the eyes.

565352_44369729Catch Light

Catch light is a great technique you can use to pull attention to the eyes as well.

Sometimes the smallest details make the photo unforgettable. Catch light is that small detail. Catch light is a tiny reflection of light in a model’s eyes. It gives the eyes a spark instead of just a solid color.

To achieve catch light, simply have the model stand so that their eyes are reflecting any form of light. If moving their position messes up the lighting in the photo, you can have someone hold a white poster board in from of them so their eyes will reflect the white light that’s being reflected off of the poster.

Not Just for Pretty Pictures

Focusing on the eyes isn’t just for pretty wedding portraits. You can also relay emotion or conditions by focusing on the eyes. Take this photo for example.

1174635_50438977Obviously, this guy is cold. Ice that has formed around his eyes is the indicator that he is freezing and the conditions aren’t comfortable. The narrowing of the eyes along with the tense brow let you know that he’s in an intense situation.

Next time you’re shooting portraits, pay extra close attention to focusing on the eyes of your subject.

Have you ever missed the eyes?