Have you noticed that certain photos of people has a strong sensation over them. It is like you as a spectator is connecting to the person in the photograph. Obviously , to establish such a connection between the perspector and and the motive is a strong eye contact that cuts straight into your soul. There is a certain kind of photos, and portraits is certainly one of these, where eye contact is making or breaking the photo.
If you have been out shooting people in the town, you might have noticed that shooting people without them being aware is very difficult. They sense that you are staring at them from the periphery. I recommend being more open about it, ask permission instead of cheating yourself to a photo. It also allows you to come close enough to get eye contacts, without making them feel nervous, tense, and awkward.
Permission is Key
Asking permission is key because trust is important. When the mind is excited, agitated, anxious or charged negatively it will be difficult to look in another person’s eyes. However, when the mind is free and quite relaxed, you can do so quite effortlessly and spontaneously. Maybe you know the feeling where you accidentally look a stranger in the eye, that the moment you make eye contact, you will both instantly feel awkward, and either the other person, or you, or both of you will look away.
Channeling the emotion
Looking at a photograph, connecting with the motives eyes, gives the exact same emotions as if you were looking the motive straight in the eye. We as a photographer has frozen the field of electricity, the tension. It makes the spectator connect to the photograph, makes him feel, provokes him.. and through these emotions ripping the photograph out of bland and boring context, making it important, making it alive. The spectator, is able to read a lot about the subject in the photo through the eye contact. He sense whether they are friendly, an enemy, or feeling sad or lonely. And empathizes with the human in your photo thought the view of your lens.
I am sure you recall the cover from National Geographic 1985 where Photographer Steve McCurry portrays a young Afghan refugee.
Is the eyes the only way to connect
You might argue, that there is heaps of portraits in which the viewer isn’t looking at the photographer, yet they still come over strongly, and you will be right in that claim. Yet I will argue that the intimacy of which the perspector experience, the connect with the model will never happen without looking through the window to the sole. So when ever possible I recommend trying to take photos of your subject with and without eye contact. then study the differences, and judge what works better for you.
My mind is clear, when it comes to portraits then I will always prefer eye-contact. For me these embrace all what I love about a photography by making it memorable, emotional, and unforgettable.