Guest Editor: Jackie Boldt of Live and Love Studios
Make Your Eyes Pop Without the Help of Post-Processing
I’m a minimalist, in both my personal life and my shooting style. I shoot with as little equipment as possible, as that makes me more mobile and ready to shoot my subjects. I also like to use the available light around me, as it yields a more natural result. It is showing what is already there, without me having to modify it.
This style also carries over to my editing. Since I like to get it as natural as possible in camera, I hardly ever brighten my eyes more than a simple enhancement. If you get the lighting right in the first place, there should be very little done to eyes in post-processing.
I did work with studio lights for a few years, however I discovered that it was not a fit for my true style of shooting. I will say that it did teach me quite a bit about how to evenly light your subject’s face, almost mimicking natural lighting. I also shot with a mix of natural and studio lights for a while, which was also challenging in itself. You have to essentially “mesh” the two light sources for a natural look in your image.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through what I have learned working with both natural light and studio lighting to help you get the same results in your photos.
Look for catchlights.
It’s thrown around a lot, but they are so important to creating a well-lit portrait. Before even snapping a photo, you need to check for catchlights in your subject’s eyes. In case you don’t already know, catchlights are the bright part of the eye reflecting the light source back into the camera. This ensures the eyes are bright and well lit, making them really pop!
While working with natural light, you can achieve nice, even catchlights by shooting:
- In open shade
- Early in the morning
- Late in the evening
- Using reflectors (either a natural reflector or physical one)
If you are unsure where to place your subject based on the light, my trick is to use the catchlights you see in their eyes. I take my subject and have them follow me while I walk around them in a circle. The entire time, I’m watching their eyes for the best catchlight and what direction they are facing when I see that catchlight.
If you are indoors, look for the windows, preferable without direct sunlight. Windows that face north hardly ever have direct sunlight, so those are ideal light sources when working indoors. I also like sliding glass doors while working in homes since they are usually the largest windows. Depending on how you like your subject lit, you can face them directly towards the window (flat, clean lighting) or at an angle to the window (portraits with more depth and shadows) making sure that you are still seeing those catchlights in the eyes.
Understand your camera settings.
Another crucial aspect of having eyes that pop in your images is making sure the eyes are sharp and in focus. Blurry, soft eyes that are bright and well lit are not going to stand out.
In order to make sure the eyes are sharp and not blurry, there are two settings you need to be aware of: your shutter speed and your aperture. Both will produce a different kind of “blurriness” in your images when the settings are incorrectly used. How can you tell the difference?
If there is no part of the image in focus, it is your shutter speed. Your shutter speed should be high enough to freeze any movement. Even if the subject is very still, too slow of a shutter speed will show movement from the photographer holding the camera or from the subject shifting.
A rule of thumb to remember is to compare your focal length to the bottom number on your shutter speed. The bottom number on your shutter speed should be higher than your focal length. If I’ve lost you, here is an example. If you are working with a 50mm lens, your shutter speed needs to be higher than 1/50th in order to properly freeze movement. If, however, your subject is moving and active, you should aim for your shutter speed to be above 1/250th, no matter what your focal length.
On a final note, if you are working on a crop-sensor camera, the focal length increases by the crop factor. You just need to multiply the focal length by the crop factor to find your true focal length. This is the number to compare to your shutter speed.
So, if you are working with a camera with a crop factor of 1.6x and a 50mm lens, your equivalent focal length would be 50 X 1.6 = 80mm. Therefore, your shutter speed should be at least 1/80th.
If there are parts of the face/image in focus (for instance, the ears are sharp), but the eyes are not, your aperture setting is to blame. The lower the aperture, the shallower your depth of field is. To put it another way, the lower your aperture, the more blurriness you have in the background and foreground. While this gives you a really nice effect in your image, it makes it more challenging to properly focus on your subject.
The best way to achieve this blurriness, but also making sure you have a focused subject is to take multiple shots of the same image. I’m not talking “spray and pray” or using your burst setting. You may think you caught the moment at the time, however the focus may have been off or the subject may have blinked. And, an image may look in focus on the back of your camera, but it really isn’t in focus when you look at it on your computer. It usually takes me multiple shots to get that image tack sharp.
Choose the right lens.
While you can get the eyes to pop with any lens, you are going to get a much more dramatic result with a longer focal length. For traditional portraits, I like to use a lens with a focal length at 50mm or higher. If there’s enough light, I strongly prefer my 100mm macro lens for getting sharp eyes in my images. Also remember your crop factor when selecting your lens!
Put it all together!
Now that you have your location, camera settings, and lens all figured out, it is time to shoot! The more you practice this, the easier and quicker it will be for you. And, you will feel more comfortable and free interacting with your subject vs. worrying about whether or not you got a sharp, evenly lit image that makes eyes pop.
My name is Jackie Boldt, and I am a Lifestyle Child and Family Photographer in St. Paul, MN . I have always shot with a lifestyle approach, even before lifestyle photography was popular! I also own and maintain a site called The Photographers Dream House with photography and business tips for beginner and aspiring photographers. I manage to juggle both businesses, while being a stay-at-home-mom to 4! Thanks for reading!
We are thrilled to have Brittney Kluse return to Chic Critique and teach a four week workshop on PHOTO FOUNDATIONS!
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Brittney Kluse is a stylized lifestyle portrait photographer specializing in natural light photography that brings out the fresh, fun, and colorful side of life. Brittney’s contemporary and candid style mixed with her signature bold and colorful imagery, set her apart in the industry. She has published articles and interviews in numerous blogs and magazines and is frequently sought out for online or in-person mentoring from photographers around the country.
Nikon D700 and my fav lens is the 85mm 1.4!
What has been the most helpful critique you ever got on an image?
Don’t tilt the camera! I know it feels “artsy,” but if done too much, it can look like people are falling out of the photograph! You don’t want a child to look like they’re ready to tumble down a hill, do ya?!
What 3 words would you use to describe your style?
colorful, fresh, fun
Where do you pull your inspiration from?
I love looking through magazines to see what hot colors are in for that season, then look for great outdoor locations to compliment the colors in the outfit!
What is one specific way that you balance work and family?
Set shooting days and office hours! I have office hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9am – 1pm. This is my time to do e-mail, edit, meet with clients, return photo calls, and take care of business matters. I hold photo shoots on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings (2 hours before sunset). This ensures I balance my family time AND always have weekends off!
Best biz/photo advice?
Work with what you’ve got! I shot for the fist two years of my business with a Canon Rebel and 50mm 1.8. If you know how to work your equipment in the right way, you can still take some killer shots without having to fork out all the money for top-grade equipment all at once!
What have you learned the hard way?
Don’t make exceptions on your prices. For better or worse, your prices are what they are. The second you start tweaking a pacakge price for someone, or trying to give another person a good deal, or throwing in an extra 11×14 … the word spreads like wildfire. Then before long, you can’t figure out who you gave what discount too or what price they had last time. Post your prices in ONE spot and leave them alone. They are what they are. You’re not a flea market with a “willing to barter” sign hanging off your camera! You wouldn’t try and negotiate with Target on the price of their toothpaste would you? So don’t let people try and negotiate with you!
How does your business deal with the rise in photographers. What have you done to standout and compete?
In any kind of market there are tens, if not hundreds, of others doing what you do. The Tri-Cities community is home to a fast-growing number of photographers and the key to setting yourself apart in the market is having a unique style and value offering. The secret to developing a sought after style is to give yourself the time to create the perfect fit for you and your target market. I now offer mentoring to photographers across the country AND have been partnering with great photography organizations, like Seniorologie, on cool projects that set me apart from the rest!
Where have most of your 2012 clients come from (besides WOM)?
What has been the best workshop or convention you’ve attended so far?
WPPI in Las Vegas
What is your most popular product?
My gallery wrapped canvas
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Guest Contributor | Leslie Vega