Eye Macro Tips


Picture 1: Shot with a Canon 60D using the Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x lens. A flash with a soft box was also used. Editing consisted of manual color insertion, mild sharpening, and a slight black level boost.

So, you’re interested in eye macro photography, but you don’t know where to start. Fear not, help is at hand! So long as you have the correct equipment, you should be fine, but before you read on, please heed my words of caution. Macro photography is tough, and requires a lot of practice. If you’re reading this article without any previous macro photography knowledge or experience, please understand that you may not at first succeed with your eye macro photographs. In the world of macro photography, and as with all other forms of photography, there are certain nuances that a photographer can only learn through extensive practice and dedicated time.

Required Equipment:

  • Camera (…)
  • Macro Lens (It must have a reproduction ratio of at least 1:1 or closer)
  • Flash or Flash Ring(optional)
  • Soft Box (optional)

If you have the required equipment, your first step is to find a willing, and patient, subject that can sit still for a long period of time. The next step would be to decide whether you want to attempt to shoot your picture using all natural light, or with a flash. Using natural light has several benefits, one of which being that the color rendition of your pictures will have a more natural tone. You will also not have the reflection of the flash in the persons eye. While using natural light may give you truer colors — without relying on editing that is–, it does pose several viable problems:

  1. Natural light will limit your shutter speed.
  2. It will cause reflections of your environment in the subjects eye.
  3. You will most likely have to boost your ISO, which will produce more noise.
  4. Due to the limited light, you may have to keep your aperture at wide-open, which translates to a very shallow depth of field.

Picture 2: Shot with a Canon Rebel XS with the Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM. Mild color editing done.

It’s really up to you whether you want to take the picture using natural light, or not. Most of the time, people don’t have an off-camera flash and are therefore limited to natural light anyway. The picture at the beginning of this post was shot using a flash — as you can see in the reflection in the eye–, and the picture below was shot using natural light. While these two pictures aren’t the perfect examples — due to the nature of the editing done to the top picture –, you can still see the difference in shading and reflections. The top picture reflects the flash and eyelashes more readily, whereas picture 2 only reflects the window the person was sitting next to. The decision is yours.

The Setup:

Natural Light:
If you decide not to use a flash, or if you simply don’t own one, your job setting up will be a lot easier. Simply find a window that provides enough light, and sit your subject down next to it. You could do this photo-shoot outside, but a word of caution is in order. Shooting outside will result in very extreme reflections in the eye. Unless you shoot in the shade of a tree, the reflections will be very distracting. After you find a suitable place, tell your subject to sit as still as possible and take the picture. If you’re new to macro photography, let me explain how to focus properly. Instead of using automatic focusing, switch to manual, focus as close as your lens will go, and now move forward or backward to find your focus. If you find yourself too close to the subject, alter your focus point and try again. Read on to figure out how to expose your picture.

Using a Flash:
If you’re using a flash, setting up will be slightly harder. Sit your subject down somewhere comfortable, and place your flash in any of the following locations:

  1. Directly next to your lens. (Some people prefer to use rubber bands and attach the flash to the lens itself.)
  2. On a tripod at the subjects eye level — pointing slightly downward.
  3. Hold it off to the side of your camera. Keep in mind that the subjects nose might get in the way if your lens focuses very close.
  4. Attach it to an umbrella — if you have one — and use the bounced light to expose your picture.

Once you find the ideal flash location, use the focusing technique mentioned above, and take your pictures.


Natural Light:
If you are shooting using natural light, set your aperture to wide-open and meter the scene. Your goal is to have a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second or faster. Due to the fact that you are zoomed in very close, you may still get blur — caused by hand shake. If that is ever the case, make your shutter speed even faster. If you can acquire a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, you’re good to go. If you find yourself in a situation that provides too much light, you can step down your aperture in order to increase the size of your depth of field. In fact, I would recommend doing this either way, raising your ISO to compensate for the smaller aperture opening. Since you don’t directly control the amount of light available, your exposures will be different every time you undertake an eye macro photo-shoot.

Exposing with a flash is much easier. Most cameras have a shutter-sync speed of 1/250th of a second. So set your camera to 1/250th of a second, take a test shot, and alter your aperture to get a correct exposure. Always try to keep your ISO as low as possible, but if you find yourself yearning to step-down your f-stop, certainly raise your ISO to compensate. Experiment with different flash powers and see what results you like the most.


Normally, a section on how to focus doesn’t exist in these types of posts, but since focusing on eyes can be rather tricky, I thought I would make one. As I said before, you should be manually focusing your shots by moving in and out to acquire your focus. Be warned that focusing on the actual Iris of a persons eye is very tricky. This is due to the reflections in the eye. Keep in mind that you’re focusing on the Iris, and not the reflections. Due to the human eyes shape — spherical — the reflections will not be on the same focal-plane as the Iris.

More Tips:

  • If you are shooting without a flash, keep in mind that the subjects eye will reflect bright sources of light from the environment.
  • Try having your subject place their head on a table, with their chin touching the table top. This will help keep them more steady.
  • Focus on the Iris and NOT on the reflections. This is often the hardest part of eye macro photography.
  • Stay relaxed. If you’re relaxed, you will move less and acquire your focus more precisely.
  • Put yourself in the subjects shoes. Having a flash go off in your face for 20 minutes straight can get very stressful. Give them a break, and pick up where you left off later.


Be patient! All forms of macro-photography take a lot of precision and time. Don’t expect to have your prize-winning shot within the first five minutes of shooting. Take a lot of pictures, and remember, have fun!

These posts take a lot of time to write. If you like them, please leave a comment, hit the like button, and share them with your friends!

More Pictures:

ShadeInteriorSarahThe Original ApertureLisaInsight

All of these pictures belong to AvidVisions members, and are not downloadable, however, if you would like to view them at a larger size, clicking on them will bring you to their corresponding flickr page.


14 responses to “Eye Macro Tips

  1. Very timely for me. I do not have a macro lens (yet), but just yesterday I was thinking about taking close-up eye shots for my 366 project. My theme for this week is “windows” and the eyes are the windows to our souls.

  2. Excellent and well written content. I found it from a forum – someone asking to photograph eyeballs, another forum member posted your page URL.
    Have you ever tried photographing your own eyes (without an assistant) or is that just impossible?

    I want a pic of each of my own eyes (one got damaged recently I can’t really see the damage), but my trusty assistant has a serious phobia! Would be interested to see if you have a technique for this.
    Great post, and great pics, some of your subjects have amazing eyes.

  3. I really enjoy reading on this website, it holds great articles. Don’t put too fine a point to your wit for fear it should get blunted. by Miguel de Cervantes. gkbaddeedega

  4. Great post great pics Thanks for all the tips. This will help me
    I have a question
    There’s a huge firework show and I want to shoot the firework reflection in the eye
    What do u advice me?
    Thank again :)

  5. Great post, bought some clarity. I’m still left with a question? I bought a new sony macro lens SAL30M28. It’s a 30mm lens and when i bring it real close to the eyes, it casts a reflection of the lens in the pupil. Because of which all I see is the lens and not the details of the eyes. How do I overcome this?

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