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Focusing: The Eyes Have It

When you look at a person, probably the very first thing you notice is their eyes—it’s just natural to make eye contact with other people, and we even do this with pets and other animals. This is extremely important when creating photographs, because you want to be sure that your focus is on your subject’s eyes (Figure 4.8). Also keep in mind that if the subject is positioned at an angle, it’s best to focus on the eye that is nearest the camera, since that’s where we naturally tend to look first (Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 It’s important to set your focus on the eyes when photographing portraits, which is important for both people and animal portraits.

ISO 2000 • 1/1000 sec. • f/2.8 • 40mm lens

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 I focused on this woman’s right eye because it was closest to the camera.

ISO 200 • 1/125 sec. • f/2.8 • 35mm lens

In Chapter 1, “The 70D Top Ten List,” I discussed autofocus on the 70D. For the most control, the best option for portrait work is to pick one of the nine focus points and stay away from automatic selection. You can move the focus around within your viewfinder to find the eye, ensuring that you are focusing on the proper part of the image before taking your photo. Leaving the focusing decision up to the camera means you could end up with an in-focus nose and blurry eyes, or, even worse, it might try to focus on the background instead of the person.

Selecting and setting the AF point

  1. Press the Q button on the back of your camera to bring up the Quick Control screen, and then scroll down to the AF area selection mode option (A). Then press the Set button.

  2. Next, press the AF Area Selection Mode button on the top of the camera to cycle through the different AF options (B). Choose the one you want to use, and then use the Multi-Controller to select the area of focus. I set mine to an off-center Single-Point AF (Manual Selection) (C).

  3. You can also make these changes by looking through the viewfinder and pressing the AF Area Selection Mode button; you’ll see the same screen you would when using the Quick Control screen. Then follow step 2 to change your point or area of autofocus.

One easy way to work is to set the focus point location in the middle, find your subject’s eye, and press the shutter button halfway to set focus. With your finger still holding the shutter halfway down, recompose and take the photo. The “focus and recompose” method is a quick way to photograph people and can work for many situations. Speed is important because people tend to move around during the shooting process, and keeping the focus point in the middle can simplify things for you.


A catchlight is that little sparkle that adds life to the eyes (Figure 4.10). When you are photographing a person with a light source in front of them, you will usually get a reflection of that light in the eye, be it your flash, the sky, or something else brightly reflecting in the eye. The light reflects off the eye surface as bright highlights and serves to bring attention to the eyes. Larger catchlights from a reflector or studio softbox tend to be more attractive than tiny catchlights from a flash.

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 The catchlights in this image add a sparkle to the little girl’s somber expression.

ISO 100 • 1/500 sec. • f/2.8 • 40mm lens

Another option for photographing people is to use Live View’s facial detection features. The Canon 70D has the ability to detect and track human faces, allowing you to focus on those faces quickly. Basically, the camera keeps a track on the faces it can find in your scene, and then once you press the shutter it focuses on the face onto which it is locked. This is great for fast-moving subjects, but I wouldn’t recommend it for close-up work with a very shallow depth of field (such as an aperture set to f/2.8), as you’ll want to make sure that the focus is always set to the eyes instead of another portion of the face.

Setting up face tracking in Live View

  1. Click the Menu button and scroll to the first Live View shooting menu item (the fifth menu item from the left). Scroll down to the AF Method option and press the Set button (A). (Also make sure that your lens is set to AF.)

  2. Scroll up to the Face Detection + Tracking option and press the Set button to lock it in (B).

  3. Once you’ve chosen your subject, enter into Live View shooting by pressing the Start/Stop button on the back of the camera (make sure the knob is turned to the white camera icon) (C).

  4. As your subject moves around, keep the camera positioned so that their face is in the frame, and watch the camera’s facial detection at work as a broken white box follows their face (D). When you’re ready, press the shutter button; the camera will focus on the subject’s face just before you take the photo.

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