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How to Get Both Eyes in Focus when Shooting Wide Open


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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.

beyondd2-45-color-burst-dusty-eye-mag-skin How to Get Both Eyes in Focus when Shooting Wide Open Photoshop Actions Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

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.

getting_ready-701 How to Get Both Eyes in Focus when Shooting Wide Open Photoshop Actions Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

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 🙂

hair-301 How to Get Both Eyes in Focus when Shooting Wide Open Photoshop Actions Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

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.



No Comments

  1. Natalie on March 23, 2009 at 8:06 am

    BEAUTIFUL !~ You totally need to get that one of your girls blown up big!! I change focus points too, much easier!!!

  2. Jodi on March 23, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Natalie – funny you should mention it – I just ordered a canvas of it this weekend. Hope to have it in a week or so. 🙂 I always loved that shot. But Ellie just got a haircut that she did not end up liking so I was torn. But I decided it is too cute not to have big – so rare to get a good shot of both together. Jodi

  3. emily on March 23, 2009 at 8:14 am

    great tutorial, jodi! and i’m glad you ordered a canvas of your girls! it’s stunning!

  4. Katy G on March 23, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Thanks so much for the tip…I always wondered how the eyes look so striking and focused in professional photographer’s pics. I told my husband I needed to invest in an L series lens (he just shakes his head, since I just upgraded to the new 5d Mark II). Love the blog!

  5. Susan on March 23, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Sigh – I love these photos and just realized my problem with my photos… all my clients squint, and even when they are not in direct sunlight, and it’s behind them, and they are shaded… they squint. How do you get them to unsquint?

  6. Amber on March 23, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for the tips! Loving the blog. Still not sure how you found me on twitter but so glad you did! I shoot my newborns with a prime lens (still waiting for my MK II to arrive) but I often get the eyes in different planes… Practice practice practice!! 🙂

  7. Lisa on March 23, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for this, Jodi — I’m always learning from you. I I tend to shoot way open too much, which makes for some wonky eyes. I just got the 135 2.0L and LOVE it, and am going to use your suggestion about keeping the eyes on the same plane. We’ll see what results I get.

  8. Kristin Cook on March 23, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for the great post 🙂 I’m practicing right now w/ how to change focus points quickly!

  9. Alan Stamm on March 23, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Echoing what Emily says: Stunning.[ Stunning (adj.) Impressive; commanding attention; sensational; arresting; making a strong or vivid impression. ]Truly.

  10. Brendan on March 23, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Very interesting article and something that I often battle with. I checked the DOF calculator for your camera (Canon 5DMkII i think) with the 85mm lens at f/1.4. I took a guess at the distance you were from the girls and assuming 5 feet, the acceptable range of focus runs from 4.96 to 5.04 feet. This is only .08 feet of focused area (or approximately 1 inch). Even at 10 feet from the girls, the acceptable range only increases to about 4 inches. Needless to say, it can be a challenge with the lens wide open. (And of course, this all assumes the camera is held still and the subject doesn’t move during the exposure.)

  11. Shelly on March 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks so much. I have had some challenges getting the eyes as sharp as can be.

  12. Amy Dungan on March 23, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks for this info Jodi! Are your L lenses IS as well? I’m trying to decide on purchasing one.

  13. Jodi on March 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Nope – the primes are super fast but do not have IS.

  14. Jodi on March 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    The zoom 24-105L does have IS. Need that one – I may sell it…

    • June Anderson on December 14, 2011 at 7:01 am

      I am on Flickr and facebook, but do not have a website. I am interested in your 24-105. I have the 50mm 1.2L and 100mm Macro L prime lenses. I love my primes, but feel like I need something with a zoom for those special occasions. Thanks.

  15. Missy on March 23, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I’m in desperate need of a new lens so I’ll definitely remember this! Thanks so much!

  16. Kelly on March 23, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Great tips! I have a question for you. How do you get your photos to be so crisp & bold on your blog? I saved one yesterday to post on my blog that I was ecstatic about & thought it saved well, but when I posted it it looks soft & washed out almost. I really appreciate all your posts & willingness to share, it’s great to read the steps others take to get some of the results I’d like to get.

  17. Keri on March 24, 2009 at 12:33 am

    Wow! This was totally helpful! I had a shoot the other day that ran late (really late) and I although I started shooting somewhere in the 2’s and 3’s, I had to go down to 1.8 by the end – and then couldn’t figure out why my focus was not as good as it usually is. But you nailed it – I focus and recompose, and probably threw my focus off. Brendan’s info was helpful too. I would never have thought of that. The focus wheel seems like a pain, but maybe I’ll have to start practicing using it because that seems to be the only solution. THANKS SO MUCH!!!!

  18. Jodi on March 24, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Brendan – that is fantastic!!! I am so not technical in that way. I get it – but would never take the time to do the math.Any interest in explaining DOF in a more technical way to my readers? I can explain my example – and understand the other way – but get lost in the numbers…Jodi

  19. Jodi on March 24, 2009 at 7:26 am

    Kelly – Again some of it has to do with starting image. But I use my MCP Crystal Clear Web Sharpening and Resize action which helps a ton for blogging. Check it out – it is FREE on my site and blog – do a search on the blog – or look under Try Me on my website.

  20. Brendan on March 24, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Jodi,Thanks. Maybe I can put together something to explain DOF in a way that’s easy for folks to understand. I’ll email you something in a day or two, and you can see if it would be acceptable for your readers.

  21. Carri Mullins on March 24, 2009 at 10:16 am

    Your girls are beautiful. This is going to look great as a canvas.

  22. Jill on March 24, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Thank you for this!!!

  23. Lisa on March 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Thank you for the tip. I always try to focus on the eyes in an individual, but find it hard to get crisp focus on the eyes/face when doing more than one person. I love the shot of your girls. But, would still love to know more about setting my canon’s focal pts so everyone is crisp and clear. I’ve read the manual and keep playing around with it. Maybe it’s just pure luck. Thanks again!

  24. Julie Ranee on March 24, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Beautiful and sharp!!

  25. becoming-mom on March 24, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    There is a really good article I found a while back here: appropriately titled “Why Center Recompose Sucks”. Great info about changing the camera settings… I like to choose my focus point too but does take a long time so will be nice to cut that down if possible. Thanks!

  26. Luis Barcelo on March 24, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Very good information Jodi, thank you very much.

  27. Tracey on March 25, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for that post! I know that I just need to keep practicing, but any tips help out this beginner! Keep them coming!

  28. Olivia on March 26, 2009 at 1:26 am

    Hi Jodi,Thank you so much for posting this. I was at OSP complaining about this very thing and was directed here :)Could you tell us where you put the focus points when you took the shot of your twins(last photo). Which girl did you focus on, etc.? This shot seems so impossible to me… 🙂

    • admin on March 26, 2009 at 7:20 am

      Olivia – I honestly cannot remember from looking as the eyes were very close to the same plane (all 4 eyes) – but stay tuned to the blog. Next week I have a guest that is going to explain Depth of Field so you get a better idea of exactly how much wiggle room you have with your focus.Jodi

  29. ttexxan on March 26, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Could you explain what other actions were used to process the 1st pic…Looks great

  30. Jodi on March 26, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    ttexxan – I have a Blueprint for that one that I will be sharing in an upcoming blog post. If you want a sneak peak at it – email me and I can send it to you as it could be a little while before it posts.

  31. Thea Coughlin on May 27, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    this helped soooo much…thanks

  32. Cynthia on July 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    Love this post. Now I know why my twins don’t always come in focus at 1.8 aperture. I just started using my focus points. Now I need to learn how to change my multi-controller and to chimp on my canon 40D. It would be interesting to know if you focused in the middle or on the eye. Thank you!

  33. Cynthia on July 27, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    my last comment was for the twin picture. 🙂

  34. Janine on January 28, 2012 at 8:02 am

    This post was so helpful. Sometimes I get great, sharp photos, but I know it’s just luck. Most of the time they’re just not sharp enough. I usually focus and recompose, but I’m starting to realise I need to select my focus points on the back of my camera.All the photos are beautiful – especially the one of your twins. I’m really curious about where you focused here – on one of the girls’ eyes, or in the middle somewhere.Thank you.

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