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How to Take Close Up Eye Photography (Step by Step)

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 10 min read
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The human iris is not only beautiful, but it also looks otherworldly. That’s why macro pictures of eyes are so interesting.
Here’s how to photograph eyes in an easy macro eye photography tutorial.

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Eye Photography: Using a Macro Lens to Retain Sharpness

Regular lenses aren’t good for taking macro photos. They only work up to a certain distance to produce a sharp image.
When it comes to eye close-ups, the best option for you is to use a macro lens. This type of optics allows you to “zoom” into your subject up close without losing sharpness.
The best macro lens for taking pictures of eyes should have a focal length of at least 100mm. It has the ideal length to let you shoot up close even when you’re far from your subject.
Remember that maintaining distance is important because if you get too close, you could block the light hitting the pupils.
Macro eye photography of a brown eye

Macro Lens Alternatives You Can Use

You can use alternatives such as bellows, extension tubes, and reversing rings instead.
Most of these attachments cost no more than 20USD, and they’re simple to use. All you have to do is attach them to a regular lens, and you got yourself a converted macro lens.
You can use your macro attachment to any lens. But it would help a lot to choose the longest lens you have. That way, you don’t have to get too close to your subject.
The only downside of macro attachments is that they often disable your lens’s autofocus. That means you’ll need to adjust your focus ring manually to get sharp images. But that’s a small price to pay as compared to buying an expensive dedicated macro lens.

Camera Settings for Macro Eye Photography

Producing magical macro photos of eyes doesn’t end in using a macro lens. You also need to make sure that you have the proper camera settings to ensure you get the sharpest images.
Below is a list of our suggestions.


People tend to ignore this setting all the time. But using the proper ISO is crucial in making sure your files are free from image noise.
If you want to make sure your images look sharp, you’ll need to adjust your ISOs manually. Try to keep your ISO settings between 100 to 800.
Why? Because for most cameras, it’s the optimal range where image noise is low.
When you’re in a bright location, 100 would be perfect because it produces the least amount of noise. But if you don’t have enough light, then feel free to bump up the value up to 800.
At this point, you’ll see some specks on your image, but not enough to make your picture look ugly.
A close up picture of a female models blue eyes


Your lens’ depth of field (the area in focus) gets smaller once you start shooting macro. To help you lock in your focus better, you’ll need to use the proper Aperture setting at all times.
Avoid using a large aperture such as f/1.8. Its shallow depth of field will make it even more difficult for you to capture a sharp image even when you’re up close.
Instead, use a narrow aperture such as f/8 or f/11 to increase your depth of field. Remember that since you’re shooting macro, the depth of field would still be small no matter what setting you use.
But choosing a narrow aperture widens the focus area enough to make it easier for you.

Shutter Speed

For the most part, shutter speed isn’t as important as the aperture for macro photography. So feel free to use Aperture Priority and let your camera choose the shutter speed automatically.
It will save you a lot of time and effort tinkering around.
Still, you should still make it a habit to check your shutter speed before you shoot.
Make sure it doesn’t go below 1/60th of a second. Especially since anything slower than that value can cause motion blur and ruin your image.
But what if the shutter speed the camera chooses is below 1/60th? Then consider adding lights to increase exposure.
If you’re using an aperture of f/11, you can lower it to f/8 to let more light in. You can also try bumping up your ISO.
As long as you don’t go beyond 800, you shouldn’t worry too much about image noise.

Let the Eyes Rest to Minimise Redness

A close up photo of a blue eye
The sclera, or the white of the eye, can be sensitive. If it goes through much stress, it can turn red and may look ugly in your images.
If you want to include the sclera in your macro shot, make sure your subject has adequate rest.
It doesn’t mean you should ask your model to sleep before the shoot. Just tell them to refrain from doing activities that may strain the eyes.
That includes staring at their computer or phone screens.
If you still see tiny red veins in the sclera, use over-the-counter eye drops to lessen the redness.
Just be mindful not to apply them too often to your subject. Long term use of eye drops can cause irritation.

Keep Your Subject Still to Avoid Losing Focus

Black and white macro eye photography
When you take a macro photo, you’ll realize that even minor movements can throw your image out of focus. That’s why it’s crucial to keep your subject and your camera still at all times.
So how do you ensure your subject doesn’t move while you’re shooting? The easy answer is to ask them to lie down or to sit.
Make sure they’re comfortable and that they have enough neck support to prevent them from moving.
It would be best to set up your camera on a tripod to keep it stable. Once your subject is at rest, focus your lens and remember your distance.
You should place your tripod at the same spot, so you don’t have to adjust device every time you take a photo.
You also have the option to use a remote trigger to set off your camera. Doing so prevents you from touching your device and potentially causing motion blur once you press the shutter.

How to Light Macro Pictures of Eyes

A macro picture of an eye
Lighting is crucial when it comes to creating eye shots. You need to make sure you take photos in a bright area to capture all the details of your subject’s iris.
It would also help a lot if you choose a spot where the catchlight is good.
Catchlight refers to a light source that complements the eyes. It’s typically round like the iris and show up as an bright orb inside the eye.
There are many different forms of catchlights. It can be natural light from the sun or even artificial lights such as light bulbs and strobes.

Natural Light

This form of lighting works well when photographing eyes in most situations. We don’t recommend you taking photos in direct daylight as it can damage your subject’s eyes.
But you can always look for a shaded area with large windows.
These will provide you with the right mix of shadows and specular highlights to capture those details.

Artificial Lights

There are two main types of artificial lights: continuous and strobes.
The best options are continuous lighting sources such as lamps and softboxes.
They’re called such because the light they emit stays on constantly. And since they don’t use sudden bursts of flashes, they’re friendly to the eyes.


These aren’t the best choice since they cause a lot of people to blink. But they’re surprisingly good at illuminating the eyes because they’re quite powerful.
Just remember to use low power when you can, so you don’t blind the subject with the light burst.
Rainbow spectrum accross a macro picture of an eye

Lighting Direction

You should also place your light source to the side instead of setting it up on top of your camera. That way, the long lens doesn’t block the light and cast ugly shadows.
And what if you don’t want a catchlight reflecting off the iris? Then place your light source directly beside the eye.
It will still illuminate the eyeball, but without any specular highlights.
When you place light sources near your subject, ask them to close their eyes until you start shooting. That way, the brightness doesn’t cause them unnecessary strain.
But you also shouldn’t press that shutter immediately after your subject opens their eyes.
Give them a few moments to adjust. Feel free to take a photo once you notice they’re not squinting anymore.

Edit Your Macro Eye Shots to Bring Out Details

If you do everything correctly, your eye close-up should already look stunning. But you can make it even more captivating by editing it in post.
The first step is to adjust your basic settings. If the color cast on your image looks unnatural, feel free to play around with your white balance.
When you feel the colors are finally spot on, tweak your Exposure slider to make your image bright enough. Then, increase your contrast to make the details look prominent.
Next, adjust your highlights and shadows. Doing so brings out the depth of the iris. You can also change the Black and White level to fine-tune the image’s contrast.
Finally, use Vibrance and Saturation to bring out the colors of your eye photo. Just keep your adjustments moderate because you don’t want to end up with unnatural hues.

Crop the Sclera Out of the Way

A macro photo of a brown eye
Sometimes, even using a macro lens with a long focal length isn’t enough to get super close to the iris.
If you zoom all the way and still see the sclera, then think about cropping it out in post. This technique allows you to “zoom in” closer to the eye by clipping out parts of the image.
All you have to do is use the crop tool to reframe your shot. Feel free to use the grid to recompose your image.
Of course, you don’t always have to place the iris in the middle. You can experiment with other compositions as well.
Just remember not to overcrop as it can affect the quality of your image.
The more you clip out of the picture, the more grainy and pixelated it will get. So get rid only of the parts you don’t need.


Taking photos of eyes is easy especially if you’ve done macro photography before. The secret is to keep your camera and subject stable. And to pay attention to the lighting in your location.
When you have the perfect light and focus, you can expect great results. So go ahead and try it.
See what it’s like to look at the windows to the soul up close.

Looking for more great macro techniques? Check out posts on macro photography backgrounds, shooting inexpensive macro photos or black and white macro shots next! 

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