Catchlights can make or break a portrait. For real. It’s the difference in seeing life, radiance, and sparkle in a photo, and dark under eye circles and lifeless eyes. It doesn’t require a ton of light to create great catchlights, just the right direction of light.
What are Catchlights?
Catchlights are the little reflection of the strongest light source in the eyes. If you are using a window for your light source, it may be the reflection of the window itself, it can be a sidewalk or a building reflecting light, or even a reflection of yourself wearing a white t-shirt. I have images where I can see myself in my subjects eyes taking a picture. Studio lights are easily pointed out in studio portraits as a large circle or rectangle reflected in the eyes.
Learning to see catchlights is just the beginning of learning how to see light. And seeing light is opening the door to a whole world of learning to use it to shape the moods of your images. It’s really fascinating, risking sounding like a big dork. 😉
I spent a little time walking down memory lane to find some close ups of my kids to show some really great catchlights. I have plenty of our dogs, but thought you may be able to relate more with a person subject, 🙂 This one was taken using garage light, facing out toward the outdoors.
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How to Get Catchlights
No matter what light source you are using turn your subject toward the light until you see a little sparkle in the eye. That’s it. Really. People with deeper set eyes are a little more difficult to get catchlights as light from above will not be reflected as easily from the eye. My daughter is one such person. Her brow hoods more light from her eyes, so, it also keeps her from getting such strong catchlights. Supposedly, brown eyes are also a bit more difficult than lighter colored eyes such as green or blue. My kids all have brown or hazel eyes, so I can’t attest to that, but I’ve read it over and over. I don’t know why that’s the case….itt just is. So, those with deeper set, brown eyes may be a bit more of a challenge, but it isn’t impossible! Just a little repositioning and you can get beautiful catchlights on any subject.
In the photos below, notice in the first image a lack of catchlights. I turned my daughter a little bit more toward my light source, and shot more down toward her, rather than on her level and boom! catchlights!
On overcast days, you may have better luck when your light is more directional. To find such an area, look for a spot that has blocked the light like a wall of trees, a house, wall..place your subject in that area, and turn toward the light source. Having your subject look up toward the sky on overcast dreary days is another way to ensure light on the face and pretty catchlights.
How Not to Get Catchlights
Sometimes by teaching how not to do something, you can teach someone how to do something. So, here goes.
- Don’t turn your subject’s eyes toward shadow or toward something that is blocking your light source, or absorbing light.
- Dark colored walls, wall of trees, absorb light, and will in turn keep the eyes from showing any kind of reflections. so you won’t be able to get great catchlights from that position.
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