Exercise 5 – Eye contact and expression

This exercise requires the students to take series of images which include and show eye contact, and how this can effects the interaction between the viewer and what we think the subject is thinking especially when looking outside the frame.

This was a hard exercise for me, mainly because over the last four exercises I have only used one subject which has been my wife. Timing is everything and I never seem to be able to get hold of a new subject (person) when I am available due to work. However on this weekday afternoon I got to capture some images of a friend who works at a motorcycle shop.

I placed Maroune near the window in a chair so natural light was coming from the window. I thought about using some fill flash but decided the natural light was enough to fill the shadows. The tricky bit would be as Maroune has tanned skin I would need to ensure I overexposure by half a stop otherwise he would come out too dark, especially with the lighter background i was using.

Eye contact is really everything in a portrait, and I learnt a long time ago if the eye closest to the image is not in focus you can forget the shot. I had my subject sit in a chair and ordered him to make various poses for the camera. I also made sure the camera was on multiple exposure as shots like this are bound to turn out with some images taken when the subject is blinking. I moved around so not to feel too static and talked to the subject all the time so they couldn’t think too long about having a camera pointed at them.

I asked my subject to look away from camera and directly into the lens to give various poses and keep them busy and mind off the camera. I also asked him to make a few different faces, but this turned out to be too false, so I made him laugh and waited for the time he had more natural facial expressions.

Images taken on Sony A7 (click on any image to enlarge)



For this first image I had Maroune sit on a chair and look away from the camera while having his shoulders slightly facing away, thereby not having him too square to the camera. Questions could be asked as to what is he looking at, or is he talking to someone just out of frame for example.



This image shows the subject looking straight into he camera lens. Now the attention is is directly with the view looking a the picture, almost as if he wants or has your attention and you are in a one to one conversation.



A natural expression makes the viewer and certainly the subject feel as ease. The sale was created just by talking to the subject while shooting multiple shots to make sure the eyes were not caught closed. Again the subject could be smiling at something or someone which makes the viewer ask questions.



For this image I asked Maroune sit in a chair and look at emails on his phone. I kept the phone out of the image so to concentrate the viewer on the face. I cropped closer and just down on the top of the head as this seems to be a good way to bring the focus onto the subjects eyes and face.



Again while sat in the chair, I took a sidewards profile picture. Not a really good example or flattering type of shot, and a bit more like a prison mug shot to be fair if it was not for the arm showing. However the eyes are looking away (at something) which makes the viewer ask questions.



Another position while in the chair shows the subject turning away and looking over the shoulder, as if disturbed from doing something more important, such as office work or another task. I could have had the subject look away but I thought this again called for attention of the viewer to make direct eye contact.



I thought this was a cheeky expression, or one of possible amazement or surprise. Very subjective depending on how you look at it.



For this image I wanted to add a prop to show some form of action, or an act of doing something other than looking at or away from the camera. The background although purposely out of focus gives clues as to the type of work Maroune does, which is a motorcycle machanic and saleman.



Taken form the same position as the previous photo, this image shows the subject in deep thought. Is he thinking about what stock needs to be ordered, or what to do over the coming weekend?



I decided to make this final shot in B&W to take away the coloured background and bright colours from his t-shirt. The image now focuses only the subjects face and what he could be thinking of.


This exercise was fairly hard in terms of getting to sit with a subject. I had no choice but to do this while Maroune was at work and I managed to move around quickly without too much disruption to his workload.

The expressions and eye contact say everything about the images and although the body position can change, the eyes really do say it all. Some points to remember while taking images of people and portraits are:

  • Focus on the eyes. Make sure the nearest eye is pin sharp.
  • Have or make a relationship with your subject.
  • Make or help them relax.
  • Vary the body position when possible.
  • Wait for natural expressions to appear and be ready for them.
  • Use a medium tele-photo lens to keep the image natural without distorting and this is also less intrusive.
  • Watch your background, it can make or break the image.

I now intend to research such famous portrait photographers such as Steve McCurry, Lee Jeffries, Joe McNally, Rehahn, David Lazar and others to educate myself more in facial expressions and composition. Personal reviews of such famous photographers to follow.