The eyes are nearly always the focal point in portrait photography, as that’s the first thing we are naturally drawn to when looking at an image of a person. There are of course exceptions to this, but if you have a composition where the subject is looking at the camera, chances are you will want the eyes to be sharp and in clear focus! Mohit Bansal Chandigarh Portrait photographer is here to share his best tips and tricks.
Where to focus on portraits?
The focal plane is the plane in which the topic looks extremely sharp as compared to the plane in front of or behind it. This is the primary cause for the blurred backdrop, and as many people have questioned, this is not something Mohit Bansal Chandigarh Portrait photographer suggests doing in post-processing. Getting the focal plane perfect on a stationary subject is simple, but it might be difficult on a moving subject. It is critical to photograph a portrait with strong eyes. You may either focus on an off-center focus point or focus on the central focus point and then recompose it as desired. When focusing on a bigger external display, it’s always better to look through the viewfinder rather than into the LCD display and then evaluate based on the acquired image.
Getting to know how to focus
Not all cameras have this capability—generally speaking, the more automatic your camera is the less likely it is that it will offer you a single-point AF setting. Most DSLRs, however, do have single-point AF, typically accessible via a small switch on the back of the camera body. To use it, look through the viewfinder while moving the joystick on the back of your camera up, down, left or right. You’ll see that focus point change positions as you move it—just place it over your subject’s nearest eye and press down halfway to focus, then all the way to make the exposure. Mohit Bansal Chandigarh Portrait photographer stresses the word “nearest eye—” that’s because if your subject isn’t perpendicular to the camera you may have one eye that’s sharper than the other. The eye nearest to the camera should generally be the one that’s tack-sharp.
Now make sure you check your results on your LCD. And it’s not enough to look at the zoomed-out version of the shot, because your LCD is way too small for you to be able to tell how sharp the eye is. You need to zoom in on it before you’ll know for sure.
Focus points are specific
Many modern cameras default to using the focus point that’s right in the middle of the frame. But most of the time, once you’ve composed the image, your subject’s eye isn’t going to be right in the middle of that frame. So you need to take steps to place that focus point where your subject’s eye is.
You can do this in a couple of different ways: first, using the simple focus/recompose method. This is where you orient your subject’s eye so that it is in the middle of the frame, press halfway down on the shutter button to focus, then recompose and take the picture. Depending on the angle of your camera and how your subject is standing, this may not always be the most accurate way to lock focus because a very shallow depth of field could mean that the focus point will change slightly when you move your lens. So I prefer to set the focus point manually.
Shutter speed settings for eyes in photography
A fast shutter speed is vital for freezing movement in portraits, even if the subject isn’t running around. So, familiarise yourself with appropriate shutter speeds for different activities and types of subjects. For example, I would never consider anything below 1/250 when photographing young children or pets. But it’s not just movement that dictates shutter speed for sharp eyes in photography.
Unless your camera is mounted to a tripod, you need your shutter speed to be higher than your focal length number. In other words, if you’re photographing at 100mm, your shutter speed has to be higher than 1/100. I prefer twice the focal length. So with a focal length of 100, I prefer to shoot at 1/200 and above to avoid camera shake. The longer the focal length, the more you open yourself up to camera shake. What you can get away with on a 50mm lens will result in blurry eyes on, for example, a 200mm lens.
Aperture settings for eyes in photography
Many portrait photographers like to shoot with their lenses wide open so that they can get the minimum depth of field, in other words, a blurry background. But it’s easy to get carried away with blurring out the background and often photographers forget to take into account the effect this can have on the eyes. When your depth of field is extremely narrow, you have very little margin for error. So the slightest movement by the subject or yourself could be all that it takes for their eyes to be not as sharp as you’d like.
Mohit Bansal Chandigarh Portrait photographer warns against using wide apertures. Also, when you open a lens to its maximum aperture, whether that’s f1.4, f1.8, or f2.8 you could also experience a lack of sharpness in the eyes. Lenses very often don’t perform at their best when used at their widest aperture. Even with expensive lenses, but more so with lower-priced lenses.
Use Single Point Focus
Focus systems in modern cameras are pretty amazing. They somehow know where someone’s face is and automatically focus on it. But if you want to be precise and ensure the eyes are in focus, try using a single-point focus mode and moving that focus point over the eyes. Sony has popularized a focus mode called “eye autofocus” which finds the eyes of the subject and focuses right on the eyes. I’ve only had occasion to test this out once and it does work pretty well. It’s not 100% but no method really is unless you have the camera on a tripod and a perfectly still subject.
Move Your Focus Point, Not The Camera
The “focus and recompose” method has been taught for years. But while it can be useful in a run-and-gun situation…if you are shooting a more posed portrait and sharp eyes are important…it’s probably not the ideal method. The problem with this is that as you recompose, you are changing the location of the focal plane (the area of depth that is sharp in an image). If you are shooting with a wide aperture and at a closer distance, this focal plan can be quite thin.
By moving the camera (even just a little bit) to recompose, you can change the area of focus from the eye to the nose. That small change can have a dramatic impact on the perceived sharpness of your image. Instead, try moving the focus point on the camera to where the eyes are when you have the frame composed the way you want. It may take a little longer, but that extra time is well worth it if you consider the alternative of getting back from a shoot, opening up all the images on your computer, and discovering a whole set of blurry eyes and sharp noses.
Try Back Button Focus:
A lot of photographers are not aware of this feature or they simply do not want to try a new feature and so refrain from using this feature. In back button focus, you assign the focus functionality to a back button on the camera, usually the “AF-ON” button.
With your normal setting, the shutter release button does the focus and shutter release. Each time you half-press the shutter button, the camera refocuses which means there is a good chance that you lose focus of your subject. With back button focus, the focus stays till you press the back button. Also by continuously pressing the back button, you can track the focus of the moving subject.