As far as I am aware, for a portrait of a single person, focus should be on the eye closer to the camera, as a rule.

Does the same apply in more or less backlit situations, i.e., when the near eye is mostly in the shade of the head, whereas the far eye is well lit? Like this image?

Does the answer change if the near eye shows a catch light but is nevertheless in the shade?

  • 1
    It doesn't seem "backlit" to me - more side-lit with the shadow side being more forward. Are you looking for a general rule (of which, I don't think one will apply), or looking at comparing a few images (of which, sample images to this question would improve it immensely)?
    – OnBreak.
    Oct 2 '18 at 20:12
  • Is this image (digitalphotopro.com/images/stories/2013/nov/lighting/3-lg.jpg) similar to what you're asking about?
    – OnBreak.
    Oct 2 '18 at 20:16
  • Do you have sample images to describe what you are talking about? The description of the lighting of the eyes does not match "backlit".
    – xiota
    Oct 2 '18 at 20:36
  • @Hueco That example is borderline, my question is mainly about cases with a near eye shaded slightly or significantly more than that.
    – Simon
    Oct 3 '18 at 18:30
  • @xiota I am thinking of cases similar to this: flickr.com/photos/javierpalaciosprieto/32823792296.
    – Simon
    Oct 3 '18 at 18:47

I'm going to drop this in as a quick answer even though it's really just a list of additional questions...

  • How shallow is your depth of field?
  • How shadowed is the near eye, lightly shaded or almost blackout?
  • How much attention do you want to draw to the near eye - is the far eye your real attention-grabber?
  • Will a catchlight change the viewer's perception if it's sharp or soft?
  • How much time do you have to do both & worry about it later?

I think what I'm trying to say is... it depends.

  • Maybe not the answer I wanted, but I guess "it depends" is the right answer, so I will accept this.
    – Simon
    Oct 4 '18 at 18:10

Where did you get this "rule"? Which eye should be in focus depends on where you want the viewer to look.

Tetsujin describes factors you may consider while deciding. If you aren't sure, take pictures with one, the other, and both eyes in focus. Pick the image you like best. If you can only get one picture and really can't decide on an eye, try to get both eyes in focus. You might lose some bokeh if you have to stop down a bit. Meanwhile, people often complain about not getting an eye in focus, while no one ever complains that you did get an eye in focus when you shouldn't have.

Over time, after taking many pictures, you will have a better sense of which eye you prefer for different scenarios. It will present itself as an inclination to set the focus point on one eye or the other.

  • Regarding bokeh, for me that is almost never the reason for shooting wide open --- most of the time the reason is a very dimly lit scene that is hard to capture when stopped down.
    – Simon
    Oct 3 '18 at 18:35
  • 1
    Regarding where I got this rule: I do not know where I heard it originally, but I came across it several times in the past. Google yields some examples such as picturecorrect.com/tips/where-to-focus-for-portrait-photography. But after giving Google another spin I agree that the "rule" does not appear to be as ubiquitous as I remember.
    – Simon
    Oct 3 '18 at 18:41

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