Nikon D3, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens @135mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 200, finished in Adobe Lightroom.

There’s an instant when a person looks into the lens and has expressive eyes. The key is that eyes are most expressive when they first look into the lens, so you just need your subject to look into the lens over and over, but he needs to feel purposeful doing it. I usually direct him to look at something else, then look back into the lens. But this is important: you should tell him specifically where to look. Just like kids, teens and adults respond best with positive directions. Try these directions while you work and your subject will become more and more comfortable, and you’ll be ready to catch the in-between looks and laughs that will inevitably follow. Remember, you’ve got less than one second after he connects with the lens to fire the shutter.

  • “Look down at the light stand [snap], now look back up here [snap]. Oh, nice one!”
  • “Look down here at my toes; go ahead and look down with your whole head. Now look up here again, yes with your whole head. Now down at my toes again, and slowly lift your eyes to the lens [snap]”
  • “See the corner of the door frame? look there…now quickly turn and look at me so your hair tosses [snap]”
  • “Awesome! Now down to my toes again, and this time look up with an expression that’s sensitive [snap]. Now try thoughtful [snap]. How about pouty? [snap]” [laughs, snap, snap, snap] Do this over and over with different words–choose words beforehand so that you are smooth saying them.
Nikon D3, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens @150mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 200, finished in Adobe Lightroom.

Nikon D3, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII lens @150mm, f/11, 1/200s, ISO 200, finished in Adobe Lightroom.

Give simple clear directions over and over with different emotions attached, and your subject will become focussed on the game, and forget the camera, and you’ll get real, true expressions over and over. The longer you wait to fire the shutter, the less lively the eyes will become. That vitreous expressiveness lasts only a moment, but you can create that moment over and over again.


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Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Jesse Gross Photography and commented:
    Great suggestion for portrait sessions

  2. Oh, thank you. This was a very informative and helpful post to me.

  3. this is great stuff.. i’ll try that!!

  4. Thanks for reading, guys. I know it always works well for me, so good luck to you, too!

  5. Great post Levi. As always, easy to read, informative, yet short at the same time.

    Thanks Again and come visit us in Washington. Would love to have you speak at one of your NW Photo LENS meetings.

    Email me!!!


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About Levi Sim

Passion drives Levi to make photographs, teach, and help new friends. He tells people he's a photographer, but he really does more than just make pictures. His professional photography is primarily commercial work for businesses, both small and large, and he really helps show how great it'd be to work with those companies. He excels at photographing people, from two-year-olds to oil field workers to couples married for 60 years, everyone has a good time making pictures with Levi. Besides people and businesses, Levi enjoys all other aspects of photography, and practices landscapes and still life, as well. Other people enjoy photographing everything, and Levi wants to be able to help, so he practices as much as he can to be ready to help. He also runs a local photography club, is a Rotarian, actively helps at church, is a husband, and poppa to a peppy four-year-old girl. Levi writes regularly for and is co-author of books on Adobe Lightroom.


Photography, Portrait, Technique & Tutorials