The Eyes Have It (Common Photographic Themes)


Eyes are a fantastic subject.  Indirectly, they are the subject of every portrait.  How many times have you seen a portrait that is completely spoiled by the eyes:  Lack of eye contact, the eyes are darting the wrong way or the lighting in the eyes isn’t right?  The emotion is really in the eyes.  So much so that you can almost eliminate all other recognizable features of the human face, and you can still tell the story.  So this week, we are going to focus on the eyes.  They aren’t isolated in each and ever case here, but they are definitively the main subject in each of these great photos from our SP @ Flickr Group contributors.


Eye Portrait by Thamer Al-Hassan

"Eye Portrait" by Thamer Al-Hassan

“Eye Portrait” by Thamer Al-Hassan

There are very few places where I feel selective color has a place. This is one of them. Getting this close to someone’s eye is revealing. And to put it bluntly, it can be a little disconcerting. The use of selective color somehow makes the image more surreal…and a bit more real at the same time.  The subtle details win me over here:  The detail of each eyelash, the catch light and the detail in the iris.  View Eye Portrait by Thamer Al-Hassan on Flickr.

Lady with Bonnet by Christoph Hetzmannseder

"Lady With Bonnet" by Christoph Hetzmannseder

“Lady With Bonnet” by Christoph Hetzmannseder

There’s too much talk about making eyes pop.  It’s awesome when they do, but they don’t have to pop to show emotion.  Christoph Hetzmannseder‘s photo, Lady With Bonnet shows a great deal of emotion.  But it’s all thanks to the eyes.  There is so much muscle mass dedicated to the shaping of the features around the eye that it could be the only feature you need to connect with in a portrait.  I really appreciate Christoph’s angle here.  Eye contact is not met, but you can still see enough of the eyes to feel a human connection.  With the girl staring out of the frame, somehow I feel like I have more of a connection with her.

Everything In Your Eyes by Peter Von Seth

"Everything In Your Eyes" by Peter Von Seth

“Everything In Your Eyes” by Peter Von Seth

Eye contact doesn’t have to be square to the camera.  A sideways glance comes in many forms.  And so we need further cues.  The pupils are fairly wide open, which is one such subtle cue.  It’s a welcoming look normally, but compiled with such an intense stare, the look can be haunting.  Especially when put to the tune of a high-key photograph in the way that Peter Von Seth presented this photo, Everything In Your Eyes, it can be quite intriguing,

Max by Andy Herbon

"Max" by Andy Herbon

“Max” by Andy Herbon

I hate to admit biased, but blue eyed people really have an advantage in photos.  As if we didn’t already have a soft spot for child portraits.  In this portrait of Max, Andy Herbon captures a fantastic little innocent moment in a child’s life.  Once again, the eyes tell the tale.  Not that we can look away from them.  When the eyes contrast so dramatically compared to the rest of the tones in the photograph, our own eyes are drawn to that spot.  And so the story is told almost passively, or at least without any of our own active involvement.

Sharp Eyes by Abdulla Ameer

Eyes aren’t unique to humans, of course.  Nor should the photographs of such be unique to humans.  Taking to a feline friend, Abdulla Ameer captures a profile shot appropriately titled Sharp Eyes.  Of course animal emotions are more foreign to us than human emotions, but any pet owner can tell you that there’s still emotion in their eyes.  Profile shots are a great angle to explore eyes from.  It’s one of the few angles in which you can truly see the curvature of the eye and the way the iris and lens fit together.  With such a narrow depth of field, I’m impressed with the way that Abdulla handled this shot.


Editor’s Note:  This article was originally published on May 1, 2012.



About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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