For the next few weeks, let’s push the envelope a bit and stretch our photographic technique. I’m taking these challenges from my e-book 32 Photo Etudes: Studies in Composition, Focus, Light, Motion.
An etude (pronounced a-tood) is a technical study. The term comes from music. A photo etude is an exercise designed to enhance a particular photographic skill.
This week’s photo challenge is a focus etude.
One exercise in the Focus section of my book 32 Photo Etudes is to focus on eyes. Whether you like to photograph people or animals, capturing the eyes are key.
Our eyes go directly to any eyes in a photo, so it’s important to practice getting a sharp focus where it counts. The eyes help the viewer of the photograph connect with the image. When we look at an image with a person or an animal we look at the eyes first – we just can’t help it!
Choose a living subject, a person or a pet works, and make sure you can see at least one eye. Living things have a tendency to move around, even if they are being cooperative, but your job is to keep the eyes in focus!
A technical tip is to use an aperture that is sufficiently deep so that you get both eyes in focus – at least f5.6. If your camera has a good auto-focus, especially an eye-focus setting, try it or set a focus point on the closest eye.
Be careful that you’re getting the eyes in focus and not the nose, ear, cheek, beak, wing, etc. It’s super easy to miss focus!
Once I get the eyes in focus, I sometimes enhance the eyes through post-processing. I sometimes brighten and dehaze the eyes a bit. In this photo of my “GQ” cat (very handsome but not a lot of common sense) I emphasized his eyes using selective color. I used black and white for the photo but retained the color in his eyes.
Notice that my cat has a “catch light” in his eye – a light in the room is reflecting on his eye, there’s a more subtle reflection in the first photo of a bison. This catch light helps the eye look alive.
The eyes are particularly important in portraits. In a previous post about post processing portraits, I compared a photo of Naomi with her eyes in and out of focus.
Here’s the final photo of Naomi.
In street photography, wait for that moment when the person’s eyes meet yours. It takes a bit of courage to make eye contact, but the eyes hold the emotion – they hold the connection between people. The photo is so much more powerful!
The focus this week is the eyes and I’m challenging you to go out and make eye contact with your subject, but there are other ways to approach this challenge. Eyes in art work or eyes on implied faces also work.
I love those photos of really close macros of eyes. They’re disturbing but fascinating all the same. I’ve not tried these shots myself but I do have an equally disturbing shot of a sculpture in a local park by Tony Tasset.
This week, challenge yourself to get in close and focus on the eyes.
In each Photo Etude, the assignment is to create 12 photos, but for weekly challenges 12 isn’t necessary, just try your hand at the technique to get the hang of it. If you want to share multiple images to discuss with others, feel free to share on this Facebook Album.