How do I make sure both eyes are sharp in a photo?

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Q. Sometimes one eye is soft and one eye is sharp. To give you a little background, I shoot in natural light, 5d mark 11 camera, 50mm lens 1.8 aperture. I also shoot with 100mm lens 2.8 aperture and 24-105mm f4 lens. Any advice/tips very welcome. – Lisa Grace, Dublin, Ireland

A. Hi Lisa, If you are shooting on F1.8, 2.8 or 4 most of the picture will be out of focus except the actual thing you are focusing on. So unless both eyes are a similar distance away from you, one of them will be out of focus.

WHY? – It depends on several factors:

  1. The lens you are using – a long zoom lens such as 70-200 will have fewer areas in focus than a wider lens such as 35-70.
  2. The distance you are away from the subject – the closer you are, the less background will be in focus – the further away the more will be in focus.
  3. The aperture you are using – if you shoot at F2.8 or F4 then less will be in focus than if you shoot at F5.6 or F8.

Tip: Remember – The lower the number, the less in focus.

This is the reason I shoot at F5.6 for the majority of the shoot – it allows the background to go out of focus, but keep the face sharp. I only move to F4 or F2.8 when I want to take an arty shot, or if I am far enough from the person that it won’t matter.

Set up your camera so you can easily focus on the eyes or face.

If you set up your camera the way I show you in: Set up your camera the easy way… then you will be using the red square in the middle of the screen as a focus point. When you put this red square over the thing you want in focus – i.e. the person’s face, then that part will definitely be in focus, and the rest of the picture will be less in focus, depending on the factors above – lens, distance, aperture.

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Above: Both his eyes are in the same plane so both are in focus – but notice his ear is more out of focus because it’s further away. Imagine that was his eye if his face was turned to your left, and then it would be out of focus.

In a close up the eyes are a large part of the picture, and therefore when shooting on a wide aperture (F4 or 2.8), any slight change in position will result in one of them will be out of focus.

In a further away shot, the eyes are a much smaller part of the picture and therefore they are both likely to be in focus.

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The above shots are all taken on F2.8 but the focus differs depending on how far away I am from the subject.

Top Left: Because I am zooming in so close, a slight turn of Charlie’s head means one eye is slightly out of focus.
Bottom Left: Even though he turns his head slightly, both eyes are in focus because I am further away.
Right: Now Charlie is much further away in the shot, so much more is in focus. But because it’s shot at F2.8 the main focus is still around his face, which is closest to the camera (as I am standing above him). As parts of the image get further away, the more out of focus they are. If I was at the same level as he is, or using F8, then his body would also be in focus.

So to make sure you always get both eyes in focus – use F5.6 for most of your shots.

If you want to get arty and use F2.8 or F4 to get more background out of focus, but want both eyes sharp:

  1. Stand further back so the subject is a smaller part of the image.
  2. If you’re doing close ups, make sure both eyes are in the same plane.

I hope this helps – I know it’s a bit confusing! Get a teddy bear or a doll with big eyes and take photos of it at different angles and practise, practise, practise! Much easier to test the above, if you use an inanimate object!

Annabel x