Keeping the eyes sharp is essential when shooting portraiture. Next time you look at a photograph of someone pay attention to what part of the photo your eyes are first drawn to. Chances are it’s their eyes. It’s normal for us to make eye contact with people in our every day life. This process is also subconsciously replicated when we look at images of people.
To get the eyes in sharp focus make sure that both eyes are on the same plane. This means the lens of the camera should be center and level with the subjects eyes. When shooting wide open between f 1.4- 2.8 for a shallow depth of field (ie: blurred background), focus on the eye closest to you if the eyes are off plane. I’ll often try to shoot as wide as possible since I favor this look. My 35mm prime lens opens to f 1.8 and I find while blurring the background I have enough depth of field to keep both eyes in sharp focus even if the camera is slightly off plane. Anything less than f1.8 can be difficult to work with. The goal here is to be able to see detail in the subjects iris.
If using a telephoto lens (ie: 70-200mm) remember to keep you shutter speeds at least equal to the focal length being used. So if your shooting at 200mm’s you want to keep your shutter speed at least 1/200 sec. Anything less will pick up camera shake in the image and loose detail. To play it safe, I will shoot at least 1/250 sec preferably higher if I have enough light.
Shadows anywhere on the face can be a distraction in the final print. Good lighting is essential. Consider using a reflector or strobe to overpower shadows. If shooting outdoors on a sunny day such as the example image above a reflector is often my first choice. Use of a tripod will help with sharpness but limit your mobility.
Keep the eyes sharp and shadows out of your portraits. Look for good light and if you cant find it make your own. A little practice and you’ll be on your way to shooting great portrait photographs.