Multiple scientific studies for placing the eye in facial approximations have shown two major findings:

Eyes are *not* centered in the orbit, and they should *not* be set as deeply as prior literature (Krogman, etc) advised.

After studies with dissecting cadavers, Drs. Stephan and Davidson discovered that  “…the eyeballs were consistently positioned closer to the orbital roof and lateral orbital wall by about 1-2mm; a finding consistent with the earlier anatomical literature.”

Studies going back as far as 1921(!) came to the same conclusion: eyes are not centered, but are 1.4 mm higher, and 2.4mm more to the lateral edge of the orbit. Here’s the cadaver images showing what he found:


Stephan noted that although 1.4mm - 2.4mm isn’t a huge amount, he points out that this distance is doubled when you are placing the eyes in the front view. So, a person’s eyes could be spaced 3-5 mm wider apart than we would normally place them. That, of course, makes a big difference in how an approximation can look.

Also, forensic artists have been placing the eyeball too deeply in the orbit.

Here's how it should be done, where a tangent drawn from the upper to lower orbit is in line with the back of the cornea:

Not to the front of the cornea, like this: 

This comes from separate research papers authored by both by Dr. Stephan in 2008, and Dr. Caroline Wilkinson in 2003.  The difference is that in the updated guidelines, a tangent drawn from the upper and lower mid-orbital edge will touch the back of the iris, instead of the cornea. If you use the earlier guidelines, the eyeballs will be too deep-set; they need to project about 4mm more forward from the orbit.

Actually, they never stopped.

We shouldn't either. We need to keep open minds, learn, adapt to new methods. If we don't, then we're going to be left behind; we'll become dinosaurs. I think that everyone should read this research for themselves (Stephan & Davidson, May 2008 Journal of Forensic Sciences; Vol 53, No. 3), and consider that maybe what we thought we knew, we didn’t.

Obviously some people have deep-set eyes, and some people have bulging eyes, and we can pretty well determine that it has to do with the depth of the orbit as to which one it will be. But until we can definitely measure that, we have to go with some guidelines.

And these are the guidelines I’m going with.

Studies that concur with Stephan’s findings:

  • Whitnall, SE. The anatomy of the human orbit and accessory organs of vision. London: Oxford medical Publications, 1921; and Oxford University Press 1932
  • Goldnamer WW. The anatomy of the human eye and orbit. Chicago: The professional Press, 1923
  • Wolff E. The anatomy of the eye and orbit. London: H.K.  Lewis & Co, 1933
  • Bron AJ, Tripathi RC, Tripathi BJ. Wolff’s anatomy of the eye and orbit.London: Chapman & Hall Medical, 1997