How To: Photograph Your Own Eye | Popular Photography

How To: Photograph Your Own Eye

Create a startling close-up with a ring flash.

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David Becker photographed his own eye using a Sony Alpha 200, with an exposure of 1/60 sec at f/13. ISO 200.

David Becker

In September’s lighting, “Lovely Light,” August Bradley showed how, with about $17,000 in gear, you can make a stunning beauty portrait.

Here at the opposite end of the cost spectrum, resolutely self-reliant David Becker, 27, used a homemade macro ring flash—and not even a tripod—to make an equally awesome portrait of his own eye.

A graphic designer from Sioux Falls, SD, Becker is crazy about eyes, and his website, www.photographybydavidbecker.com, showcases a dozen of them: blue, green, brown, human, animal—each as detailed, mysterious, and beautiful as the image here. “What first got me into eyes was the detail,” he says. “Most people don’t ever see how detailed they are. In daily life, eyes are rarely lit well enough to reveal the iris’ complex interplay of color and shape. Even when the lighting is good, you usually can’t get close enough to another person’s eye to really examine it.”

As Becker suggests, the key to photographing eyes is good lighting. It’s not easy because, using a typical macro lens, your subject may be very close its front element. If you’re lighting with a shoe-mount flash, the lens barrel at such close range may cast a shadow over part or all of the eye.

To overcome this, Becker used a macro ring flash. Mounted around the lens, it produced an even illumination across the eye, with all areas equally bright and shadow-free. Notice how the eyelashes here, although lit directly, cast no visible shadows.

And you can easily make your own. “Constructing my DIY ring flash was quite simple,” Becker explains. “I found a used angel food cake pan with a hole large enough to accept my lens in the middle. Then, using tin snips, I cut a hole in its side for the flash head to poke through.” He lined that hole with duct tape until it fit snugly around the flash, pressed tin foil (reflective side out) along the inside of the cake pan, and finally taped wax paper over the front for diffusion.

Want to try this yourself? Becker suggests photographing subjects who have clear, unveined eye whites and blue irises, which he says seem to show more detail. For more tips and inspiration, he turns to websites such as the Digital Photography School; DIY Photography offers similar projects.

And, if you own a tripod, let it support the camera while you experiment with your macro self-portraits. Or get a patient friend to model so you can practice.

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David Becker shot the window to his own soul by simply turning his homemade cake-pan ring flash back on himself and taking dozens of shots until he got a keeper. It took about 20 tests to position the circular catchlight exactly within his pupil.

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He relied on the camera’s AF system for focus and made little attempt to frame his eye perfectly. Instead, he shot to include the area around the eye, and later in Adobe Lightroom 2 cropped in and upped contrast, sharpness, and brightness.

Peter Kolonia

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The A200’s built-in pop-up flash triggered an optical slave in the Sony HLV-F56AM shoe-mount flash, which illuminated Becker’s ring light.

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His camera? A Sony Alpha 200, with a Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP Macro lens.

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