Selfie: Photographing myself in the Reflection of an Eye

Behind the scenes, Photographing myself in the reflection of Bethany Hood's Eye

I’ve always been fascinated by catchlights. They bring life to eyes, creating an inviting atmosphere—you can even dissect the lighting of a shot by the size, shape and brightness of  the reflections in the eye. For the past couple of years, I’ve always fantasized about taking a self-portrait, where I’m visible in the models pupil. It would require a macro lens and an extremely high-resolution camera to create the image I was after. 

I’ve tested with many cameras, even a PhaseOne 100 megapixel back–I’ve just never happened to be in the presence of a medium format camera and the corresponding macro lens. Until yesterday…My buddy Clay was sent an IQ380 from Digital Transitions for a shoot with Jennifer Lawrence for her foundation. They also sent a few Schneider lenses, the 40-80, 150 and the 120 macro. When I saw the 120’s minimum focusing distance was 14″, I knew I had to shoot this concept immediately.

Thankfully my girlfriend, an amazing makeup artist, tolerates my light-testing obsession and was down for the late night studio session.

Bethany Hood, Louisville Makeup artist Photographed by Hunter Zieske

Lighting:

The lens is an f4 Leaf shutter, with flash sync up to 1/1600th of a second. Shooting that close to a face at f4 would be nearly impossible–the depth of field would be half of one centimeter. I chose f14 which still only gave me a little under 3/4″ of focusing depth. I was shooting on a tripod and not caring too much about capturing motion so I set the camera to 1/200. I kept my ISO at 100 because even though digital medium format has come a long way, I’d be using a 100% crop which contained too much noise for my taste. I mention the settings before lighting because if I’m in a position where I’m able to choose camera settings, it’ll always be a conscious choice.

I also use a light meter. I think there’s a misconception that using light meters for digital photography are only for those who don’t know how to get correct exposure on their camera.  Instead, I use it to quantify light on set. I choose my camera settings (usually before even powering it on) and start lighting for that. I can control and visualize contrast before snapping a frame.

Technically I was the subject in the photo, so the key was a bare bulb Profoto D1 at full power. It was 2-3 feet from my face giving a meter reading of f45. Remember, the light has to reflect off of my face, into Bethany’s pupil, then reflect into the lens. The fill was a Profoto D1 in a 2ft OCF Octabox reading around f16.

Lighting setup for photographing myself in eye reflection

Shooting:

As I mentioned before, I also had access to a 150mm lens, but its minimum focus distance was 3.8′ so I actually lost quite a bit of frame. I also wasn’t at the minimum focus distance–when I tried moving in that 15″ mark, the distortion in the eyeball partially covered my face with the reflection of the lens. I had to find the sweet-spot distance of lens-to-eye and face-to-eye. The image inevitably needed to be cropped 100% actually, hence the entire reason I’ve waited so long to shoot this on medium format.

Self portrait reflection phhotographed by Hunter Zieske with a Phase One