One thing I always like to do when photographing a person is to get at least one shot when I have them looking deep into the lens. Eye contact is a really effective way of drawing the viewer into the image, and making a connection with the subject.
I have my set of tricks which make this possible with the younger kids, and I would say that almost 99.9% of my sessions I can manage to tame even the wildest of child and get them to do this.
What I love about these shots are that they show a true glimpse of that individual's character. This does depend on how I've enticed them to look into the lens, as sometimes I'm asking them to look and see if they can see something I've suggested may be in there, so their look is inquisitive or curious. Sometimes I may just have wrapped a silly 'lens pet' around the lens which will show signs of amusement or intrigue. Mostly, however, unless they are older and perhaps more self conscious they do tend to forget they are being photographed for a second or two, and that's when you can get these true glimpses into their character and how they are feeling. In the case of this little girl, it was very early on in the session and she was feeling shy which is also suggested by how she is holding her hands, but I like the coyness of this image.
The trick with photographing the eyes effectively is to catch the light in them, incidentally called catchlights. Without the catchlight in the eyes, the person's eyes look lifeless, and this takes the vitality out of the portrait.
Catching the light in the eyes can be achieved by finding where the light is coming from, then photographing the subject facing towards its general direction, although taking care not to have them facing a bright light which will cause them to squint. It's most useful to find some open shade on a sunny day to achieve this, such as under a tree or in the shade of a building. This image was taken down a lane in the middle of a sunny summer day. Open shade not only makes the eyes pop, but gives the person's complexion a lovely even tone.
Another way (and one I use often) is to ask the subject to look up to the camera if they are crouched down and you are above them, as this always lets the light in and results in the most wonderful eyes. Reflectors and careful lighting can also bounce light into the eyes, and many different types of interesting catchlights can be achieved by angling the light in different ways.
With close up portraits, I will always focus on the eyes so that they are sharp, as without this the portraits fails. I will often shoot with a wide aperture, sometimes as wide as f1.8 which means that much of the background is out of focus. This draws even more attention to the eyes which are in focus, so effectively jump out of the image as the main focal point.
Hopefully this has gone some way to highlighting the importance of eyes in portrait photography, and these tips will help you create some wonderful portraits of your own.
Lynne Atkinson - Alice Rose Portraits