Where to Focus for Portrait Photography

Figuring out where to focus when shooting portraits may seem pretty straightforward, but there are a few basic things you should know. In the video below, award-winning photographer David Bergman tells us where to focus and why:

One thing that’s easy to forget when working with a DSLR is that you can tell your camera where to focus. This comes in handy when the place you want to focus (like someone’s eye) is nowhere near the center of the camera.

You can also control whether the sensor focuses primarily on the center or near the center, or tries to keep the entire scene in focus.

Another tip is to focus on the eye closest to the camera, as that’s the eye we humans would naturally focus on in real life.

Focus on the eye nearer to the camera

Focus on the eye that’s closer to the camera.

Of course, this all goes out the window when photographing groups. In those cases, you’ll need a greater depth of field (f/8 to f/10). And if your subject has their eyes covered? Well, as Bergman says, “there are exceptions to every rule.”

For further training: The Art of Portrait Photography

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2 Comments

  1. Murray White says:

    Couple of things — one is an issue with the facial view which causes both a distortion of the nose and a change in how the eyes appear as one being much more out of focus than the other. Second — the best way to have both eyes in relative sharp focus is to NOT focus on the eyes at all. Much better to focus on the mid point Bridge of the nose and with the depth of field be able to have both eyes in relative sharp focus. Of course, with digital photography then both eyes can be made as sharp as desired if necessary and also the nose will not be blurry and much more difficult to adjust to relatively good sharpness.

  2. Thanks for the article! Depending on where the eyes are and obstacles in the way such as glasses, I prefer to focus on different parts of the face instead that are the same relative distance to both eyes.

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