Q&A: Capturing Eye color

I just finished up my first photography workshop (yay!).  There were some great questions in our Facebook group and I want to share some of those questions and answers here on the blog.  

Here's the first from Annalise:

My baby girl has the prettiest blue eyes.  However, I can never get them to show in pictures. Is that strange? What can I do to change that on my DSLR? This was taken with my cellphone, aside from the red eye, that my phone can't take out, you can see the blue.

Such a great question!  We want to be able to capture our subjects as we see them.  Unfortunately, our cameras aren't as amazing as our own eyes and brains and sometimes have a hard time capturing what WE see.

In the photo above, we can tell she has blue eyes, but the red eye from the flash takes over and just looks unnatural.

Like so many issues in photography, this one is all about light!

Our cameras need light to make photos.  

In the photo above, Annalise was in a pretty low light situation and had to use a flash.  The flash provided her the light she needed (we can see those blue eyes) but we can also see the red from inside of her eyes.  The red eye clearly isn't a good look.  Additionally, the flash creates a harsh, directional light, and that's not this sweet girl's best look either!

I'd rather use available light over the flash when taking photos, but we have to have a good amount of light to make it work.  

And in the question above, Annalise asks about using her DSLR to make a better photo.  Our DSLRs are certainly capable of SO MUCH more than our phone cameras.  However, in this situation, rather than making the camera work really hard to capture a great photo, let's change the setting so we can get the results we want with ANY camera. 

You will see her eye color better when there is more light illuminating the eyes(and not light from the flash). Photography needs light to work. We also need light to see color! Remember, we see "blue" when the blue wavelength of light reflects back to us from blue objects.  

I wanted to show her what a big difference using light makes.  So, I took some photos with my phone (I wanted to prove that light would make a big difference no matter the camera!).  My blue-eyed kid was at school so I had to use my brown-eyed boy, but the idea was the same.  

This first photo is just to show you the scene. See those doors in the background? There's lots of nice light coming in from those doors. Also, there's a window on that same wall.  Behind Sam we have some walls and a dark hallway.  There's really no light coming from behind him.


In this first shot, I had Sam face away from the light.  Look how drab his eyes and skin look (plus he looks grainy.  That's because my phone had to increase the ISO because the light was low, but we'll hold off on getting into those technicalities for now). 

In the next photo, I had him face toward the light of those doors. See how much better and brighter his eyes look?  There was enough light coming in from those doors to illuminate his face.

In the last photo, I used the flash. Yikes!  His eyes look red.  I'm scared.

The three photos above were taken within SECONDS of each other.  

The takeaway: 

Be sure there's light illuminating your subject's face and eyes.  (But make sure it's not too much...we don't want our subjects squinting).  

Annalise was kind enough to share this "after" photo she took of Izzy.  She took her outside and laid her in the shade (where there's a good amount of light, but not too much!)

Just LOOK at those baby blues!

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