In today's quick tip we'll be exploring three types of eye contact to consider when taking a portrait, along with different situations where each may be particularly appropriate. Eye contact can make a huge difference to the impression given by your image, and is worth considering—whether it's for a formal portrait, or a candid snapshot!
1. Direct Eye Contact
With the subject looking directly into the lens of the camera, you create a connection between the person being photographed, and the person viewing the photo. This relationship is defined by the expression held—it could be seductive, angry, or even terrified.
For this reason, the technique is fantastic for putting the viewer into someone else's shoes. Take this image, for instance: it makes the viewer wonder what the child is thinking. Is she afraid, or just tired and needing comfort? Whatever the case, the look and composition of this photo evokes the feeling of wanting to say "don't worry!"
With direct eye contact, it's obvious that the subject knew they were being photographed and, as such, they are usually adopting some form of "pose" (either natural or formal).
2. Eye Contact Between Subjects
Unlike direct eye contact, having two different subjects looking at each other is a way to depict the relationship between them. The viewer becomes an observer, and is no longer "involved" in the photograph.
This is commonly done to represent a loving relationship (see the two examples below, or almost any wedding shoot), but it could equally be chosen to represent hate, anger, or fear. If you're wanting to capture some form of atmosphere in a scene, this can be a great way to do so.
This visual connection needn't just be between two people. It could involve anything, from a child having fun with their dog, to someone thoughtfully arranging a bunch of flowers.
3. No Eye Contact
Finally, we come to the idea of a sole person looking away from the camera—any any other obvious subject. This very much puts the viewer in "observation mode", and it can feel as though you're gaining a glimpse into the thoughts and private moment of the person portrayed. Both of the examples below take on a thoughtful, pensive atmosphere.
Because the subject is looking "past" the camera, it introduces an element of the unknown into the photo. There's no way to pinpoint exactly what has captured the person's attention. This unresolved aspect—something mysterious—can create an alluring sort of tension in the photo that allows the viewer to project their own thoughts and assumptions onto the situation and person depicted.
The one exception would be in a photograph such as this one, where you can see the full picture through a reflection in either the subject's eyes, or a pair of glasses.
How Do You Use Eye Contact?
Do you favour a particular type of eye contact in your photography? I'd love to see any photographs you have that use this technique in a particularly inventive way, so please feel free to share them below!
Looking for more great photographs of people? Check out the portraits on PhotoDune!
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