Many ask me a question on where do I focus in a portrait image. Is it the face, nose, eyes, mouth etc. I have seen people capturing portrait images where they do not focus on anything specific. In the below post I will be explaining about where to focus and how to get sharp images that look great.
The answer to where do I focus in portrait photography would be simple, it’s just like where do you see when you speak face to face with a person standing in front of you. It’s the eyes which we see when we speak to some one. Similarly, when you capture a portrait you need to focus on eyes. Some even ask me which eye? – it’s the focal plane that you need to consider. So, any eye is fine as long as the two are in the same focal plane. Unless, you want to focus on something else, by default consider it to be the eyes where you need to focus. In the above image I have focused on his left eye, where as the other eye is not in the focal plane and hence its not in focus.
Now that you know where to focus, let me explain about how to get portrait with sharp eyes. Usually, portraits are captured using wider aperture of f1.4, f2.8 and longer focal length to get shallow depth of field, which will make the background out of focus. With this you need to be careful about the focus or the plane. Focal plane is the plane where the subject appears really sharp when compared to the plane in front or in the background. This is the main reason how we get blur background and this is not something that I do in post processing, as many have asked me this question before. To get the focal plane right on a stationary subject is easy but on a moving subject can be challenging.
Photographing a portrait with sharp eyes is important. You can either set focus on an off-center focus point or focus using the central focus point and then recompose it the way you want. It’s always good to look through the view finder when you focus or an external larger display than looking into the LCD display and then judging on the captured image. It has happened to many that the image looks perfect on LCD as soon as it’s capture but when the photos are transferred to a computer it looks different. Ex: out of focus image. But this is something that you can see only once it’s transferred. So, the best option would be to digitally zoom into the captured image and then check for sharpness. Best would be to transfer it to computer as an when it’s captured, if you are capturing it indoor.
I have tried capturing in both the ways as mentioned above. Let me tell you how I had captured the other way. I focused on the subject, pressed the shutter button half way down or use customized/programmed AE-L/AF-L button to lock the focus and then move the camera a bit to recompose so that I can place the subject off center.
The AE-L/AF-L button that I had mentioned above is specific to Nikon cameras. We have similar options to program or customize button in other cameras too. I like to keep the focus button separate. High end cameras have a separate button for these. Also, you may try using the multiple focus points and cross points that are available in your camera. Nikon D600 for example has 39 focus points.
Follow me on social media. The above images were captured during a candid wedding photography event of a Hindu brahmin wedding in south India. You may contact me for any candid wedding photography bookings. Also, don’t forget to share this post and follow me on social media for more updates.