The secret of expressive eyes in portrait photography

portrait photography

“Eyes are the mirror of the soul” is not just a beautiful phrase. It is this part of the face that is responsible for the expressiveness of the portrait, its general mood, and emotional content. That’s why it is so important for a photographer to emphasize the model’s eyes. Let’s consider several ways to achieve this goal!


Focusing the lens should be on the eyes. If the settings have shifted, no amount of additional techniques will fix it. If the focus is good, it’s easy to improve the result in the post-production stage. For example, in the app to change eye color, you can adjust or completely change the color of the eyes. This technique is guaranteed to make them more expressive and contrasty.


Location in the frame and angle

There are no strict compositional rules for obtaining an expressive portrait, but an attempt to follow symmetry or the rule of thirds can give a good result. Eyes in the center of the frame are also effective. In this case, the observer gets direct, maximum open eye contact with the model, which makes the portrait effective and memorable.

To naturally increase the eyes, you can shoot a person slightly from above. So eyelids reflexively open wider. A dreamy and romantic mood can be given to the portrait if, on the contrary, directs the camera from the bottom to the top, in the direction of the model’s gaze.


In a classic portrait, the mood in the gaze should match the facial expressions. Otherwise, the image will appear “flat”, lifeless, or even frightening. To help the model relax, to tune in to the appropriate mood, the photographer needs to be able to communicate, to have a stock of visualization exercises.

Of course, contrasting facial and eye expressions can be used to convey mixed, held-back feelings or to create an unusual aesthetic effect. For example, a sad look combined with a smile can be used to convey sadness, nostalgia, or bitter revelation.

Light and reflections

The eyes should be well-lit, otherwise, the look will turn out inexpressive, cold, and unpleasant. It is not necessary to force the model to look directly at the sun or flash. Beautiful glare in the eyes is created by natural light in the windows or reflections of water. It is enough just to position the model close enough to them. In artificial light, a diffused flash or softbox can create a beautiful glare.

Especially effective look reflections in the eyes. This technique is relevant if you shoot a close-up of the eyes and want to convey a certain idea to the viewer. To get a reflection, choose an image, place it near the model, and direct a powerful enough light at it. You can also use a computer monitor, smartphone, TV screen, or projector at maximum brightness settings.

Light and reflections


The easiest way to make the look more expressive is to trivialize the eyes in a photo editor. But this method is used by professionals not often and without fanaticism. It is considered a good tone to correct the brightness and sharpness of the eyes, a slight increase in scale, and change the aperture and color temperature. Appropriate will be the use of the author’s presets and further manual refinement of individual moments.

To emphasize the beauty of the look, you can retouch the wrinkles around. In this case, the depth and degree of correction will depend on your goals. For advertising shots, it is often necessary to maximize the alignment of the relief around the eyes. But for a personal photo shoot, it is worth leaving some of the wrinkles to keep a natural look, emphasizing the character of the person.

Model’s work

The expressiveness of eyes in a portrait depends not only on the skill of the photographer but also on the attitude of the model to the shooting. It is desirable to practice beforehand in front of a mirror: make sure that the eyes do not run, there is no involuntary squint, the habit of unnaturally wide open eyes in front of the camera, etc. On the eve of the shoot, it is important to have a good rest, you can apply a soft cream and/or use moisturizing drops.

Purity Muriuki
I'm a passionate full-time blogger. I love writing about startups, technology, health, lifestyle, fitness, electronics, social media marketing and much more. Continue reading my articles for more insight.


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