This week I have been asked this same question 4 times, so I thought I would do a post to answer it for all my readers: “How do you get your eyes tack sharp and in focus when shooting WIDE OPEN? Is it in camera or your eye doctor action?”
In the past few years I have upgraded most of my lenses to L series primes. They are incredible! And with some you can get as wide as f1.2. That is seriously shallow depth of field. I tend to shoot most individual portraits at between 1.2 and 2.8 – depending if the subject is still or moving. I usually shoot my twins together at 2.0-2.8. Are all my shots in focus? NOPE. But I chimp (check the back of the camera) – I zoom way in. And I check and make sure I am on the right track.
In this photo below, I used a Canon 135L prime lens. I shot wide open for this lens at 2.0. Both eyes were on the same plane and I nailed the focus. I lightly used the MCP Eye Doctor Action, but because the light and sharpness was so good, it barely needed it.
As for how I focus… I am for the eye closest to me. As a result sometimes the eye further back is very slightly out of focus. But I also try to get eyes on the same exact plane (both eyes are the same distance from me and the camera – so when I focus on one the second automatically is in focus too. When I succeed, then both eyes are tack sharp.
As for methods, I have found through experience and experimentation, what works best for me is changing focus points. When I was just starting out I would focus and recompose. I never unedrstood why my photos looked a little soft. But the slightest change in distance can throw the subject onto a different plane.
This photo of my daughter Ellie was shot at 2.8 on the Canon 35L prime lens. Her eyes were not quite on the same plane – but close. The one on our left was slightly closer to the camera. And since I was getting ready for my sister’s wedding, I did not want to have to pay attention to extreme detail (hence the choice not to shoot at 1.4). As far as the action, yep – ran it here too – but there was amazing light in the eye, so it just helped bring out the detail in her eyes which I LOVE.
On my camera I change the function of the multi-controller so that I can quickly change focus points. If you do not know how to do this – consult your manual (which can be a wealth of information).
Try your own experiments and see what focusing methods work for you. Oh, and my lens is set to auto focus. I do not use manual focus. But I almost always shoot in manual for full control over light and exposure. Just so nobody is confused…
Lastly, my twins… I call this one a miracle shot. It was taken with my Canon 85 1.2 lens at f 1.4. This is shallower than I normally choose to shoot two kids. But it worked and I love this shot. I still think I may have to do a canvas of this one – note how I got Jenna directly over Ellie. If she was pulled back even an inch or two from where she was, she would have been way out of focus. I use the “MCP Eye Doctor action” on all closeups but again the magic here is in the image not the action. The action helps make good eyes (with good focus and light) great – it does not make lifeless eyes that are out of focus look like this. And if you try to use it that way – it just looks freaky 🙂
Hope this helps you get crisper photos Straight Out of Camera. And helps you understand when you will get the best results from the Eye Doctor too. Oh and thank you to one of my readers, Brendan. He posted this link in the comments to a DOF calculator. If you are more math oriented or technical than I, take a look at this DOF Chart to better understand focus and distance.