Portrait Reflected in One’s Own Eye

By: Scott Holstein on February 6, 2013

Filed under: Personal Projects

Creative photography of a woman’s face reflected in the pupil of her own eye.
Macro portrait of a woman’s face reflected in the pupil of her own eye. The effect was done in-camera with a mirror, off-camera lighting, and a macro lens. Purchase prints or license this image.

One day back in college, I realized I could see my reflection in my own pupil while looking into a mirror. I thought it might make interesting and creative photography so I enlisted fellow photographer Joel Fluty to endure some pretty strong off-camera flash blasts to the face. After sacrificing Joel’s vision, I determined that it was theoretically possible to make a portrait of someone’s reflection inside their own eye, but it would not be easy to accomplish.

I recently revisited the idea with some better equipment and a handful of patient models. This was indeed a very technically difficult photo shoot. In order for the model’s face to appear properly exposed as a reflection in the pupil, I had to overexpose it with the flash equivalent of a small nuclear explosion. But for the iris to be properly exposed, the blast had to be controlled so that it lit one side of the face but did not spill over into the eye I was photographing. Then I had to light the eye I was shooting at a darker exposure so it would have detail and not be overexposed.

To get the best depth of field between both the iris and the reflection of the face, I stopped down my aperture, thus requiring the extreme pop of flash.

After a failed attempt at creating a one-way mirror with the hopes of shooting directly through the mirror and into the eye, I settled on shooting at a slight angle into a regular mirror. Since this was macro work, that meant the model, the camera and I were all smashed together, just inches from the mirror. The close quarters prevented me from using a tripod, which added to the difficulty. Any slight movement by myself or the model was amplified and had a tremendous effect on both composition and focus. The model’s distance from the mirror affected both the size of the reflection in the eye and the camera’s working distance from the mirror, and the size of the pupil affected how much of the face’s reflection was visible.

I enjoy trying to overcome the challenges that creative photography can present.

Subscribe to my mailing list

Stay informed with the occasional update delivered straight to your inbox!