An easy way to make better portraits: center the eye of your subject in the middle of the frame.


I will explore this idea of a centered eye:


1. Eric Kim Examples

Some of my photos where I centered the eye (not always intentionally):

2. Eye Contact

Photos that I shot in which the eye isn’t completely centered, yet there is strong eye contact:


3. Raphael Examples of Centered Eye

Apparently this center-eye composition has been used by many painting masters, like Raphael.

In his ‘Portrait of Bindo Altoviti’, note how the eye of Bindo is centered in the middle of the frame. Not only that, but notice how Bindo’s body is turned left, while his eye turns right towards the viewer:

Note how the eye is centered in the middle of the frame, which makes it seem that the subject is looking straight at the viewer

Also in another example, see this painting of Fornarina, Raphael’s mistress:

Also centered eye composition

So the takeaway point is this: when shooting photos, try to center the eye.

4. Steve McCurry Centered Eye Examples

Steve McCurry also has some good eye-centered compositions in his photos. Not sure whether he does this intentionally or accidentally:

A technique we can apply in our photography, with centering one eye in composition for photography / Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, at Nasir Bagh Refugee Camp near Peshwar, Pakistan. © Steve McCurry

 

Also remember, not all of Steve McCurry’s portraits have a centered eye. Yet I think photos with a centered eye composition strike the viewer’s heart more.

In the photo below by McCurry of a woman in Italy, the photograph strikes my soul:

(c) Steve McCurry

Part of it is the centered eye composition:

Part of it is she has good proportions in her face, big eyes, soft light on her face, but also the fact that her lips are slightly opened — which looks sensual:

In one of McCurry’s famous portraits, the eye isn’t perfectly centered, yet still very strong:

(c) Steve McCurry

The blue line is the center of the frame:

The red line is where the eye is:

The red line next to the blue line:

5. Leonardo da Vinci Centered Eye Composition

Even the famous Mona Lisa has a centered eye composition:

Learn more: 30 Lessons Leonardo da Vinci Has Taught Me About Photography, Art, and Life >


6. Carlo Crivelli

Another example from Carlo Crivelli, Madonna con Bambino (Mother Mary with baby Jesus):

Not perfectly centered, but pretty close:

The actual center in blue:

The eye in red:

The real center (blue line) against the line of the eye (red line):

Another example — Saint George by Carlo Crivelli:

Conclusion

I’m not certain why a centered eye composition works well. But it seems to engage the viewer. It looks like the subject in your photo is always looking at you.

And it is true, ‘Eyes are the windows to the soul.’


Center Eye Slideshow


Learn more composition >

Take your composition to the next level:


Street Photography Composition 101

For distilled lessons on composition, read the free ebook: “The Street Photography Composition Manual.”

Further articles to improve your compositions in photography:

Composition Theory

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Compositional lessons from the masters of art


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