How to Create Catchlights

What are catchlights? Basically, it is having a reflection of light in your subject’s eye. Photographers LOVE catchlights! It is what can turn a typical looking portrait into something fabulous! I never knew about catchlights until I took a workshop and now I’m obsessed. In fact, even if a photo isn’t that great but has wonderful catchlights I typically keep it. Who doesn’t love a photo that makes their child have that little “twinkle” in their eyes.

How to create catchlights

Here are a things you need to know about catchlights.
1. Position your subject with their eyes  facing the light source.
Indoors - Have your subject face a window. They do not need to face it head on, that can cause flat lighting and wash out their face (we’ll touch more on this later) It would be best if your subject is at a 45 degree angle from the window. This gives some nice shadows to their face as well as creating beautiful catchlights.

Outdoors – Use open shade for catchlights. If you are shooting outside you don’t really want your subject to be in direct light. You would want to shoot in open shade like under an awning or a tree. Even though, your subject is in the shade make sure they are facing the light so you can capture catchlights.

2. Use a reflector.
You may be shooting outside and have the sun behind your subject such as in a backlighting shot. If this is the case, you would want to use a reflector to help bounce some light into your subjects eyes. I have to be honest, if I’m out shooting my children by myself it is really difficult to hold a reflector with one hand at the same time hold my camera and change the settings with one hand (not impossible, I did do a series of shots of a friend and her husband while holding their 11 month old…I digress). If this is the situation and I know it will be hard for me to hold everything, I just wear a white shirt. Your shirt can act as a reflector. In the same case though, if you wear a red, yellow, or other color shirt that will reflect on your subject as well. So be careful what you are wearing if you are doing a photo shoot so you don’t get a red cast on your subject’s skin.

3. If you don’t have a light source on their eyes they can look “empty”.
If you don’t have catchlights your subject’s eyes may look dark and “empty”. Now remember, the only people who will even notice this are other photographers. Grandparents and parents don’t care :O) Don’t get rid of a photo just because you didn’t capture catchlights. In fact, my Christmas photo this year left Kate’s eyes looking empty because I didn’t use a reflector with the backlighting. That didn’t stop me from blowing it up to a 24 x 30 and framing it in my dining room. Just be conscious of where the light is coming from.

4. Catchlights are easier to achieve on people with light colored eyes like blue or green. Don’t get discouraged if your subject has brown eyes you can still capture catchlights.

5. Some people say the “best” catchlights are at 10 and 2. I don’t necessarily agree with this. I think, and have read in different places that catchlights are a personal preference to where they are in the eyes.

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  1. Thanks for the tips. I love reading your blog. I didn’t know that about shirt color but now that you mention it, it makes sense.

  2. Thanks so much for this post! Full of great information.

  3. love this! as a photographer friend’s all-time-reflector-specialist, i have to say those things are tricky and take some practice! we usually use them to achieve a nice, warm glow on the subject’s face when they are back lit or it is a bit overcast. i love your ideas and can’t wait to try them! :)

  4. It’s so true… photos are so empty without catch lights. Unfortunately, I have more without than with.

    So I think I am going to take the plunge and join Click In Moms, so I can take some of their online classes. I am concerned that I won’t have the time to commit to it, so I have thought about taking another class at our local community college. however, I think Click In Moms will be better. Do you think I should take Rock Your Camera I or II? I have taken a 4 week digital photography class for beginners and a digital photography II class.

    • I just sent you an email :O) I can’t say enough great things about Clickinmoms workshops! They are great! I think it just depends how comfortable you are shooting in manual as to which class to pick. RYC 201 doesn’t really cover anything about the exposure triangle, white balance, and stuff like that :O)

  5. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Thanks so much for the information. I have a lot to learn about photography, but your work is very inspiring! So glad I found your blog.

  7. A white shirt, such a simple tip, obvious but who would have thought. I stumbled across your site this morning and have been hooked for the last hour! I want to learn more……

  8. I was WONDERING what a catch light was?! I read it in a comment on FB and had no clue what that person was talking about. :) Such a good thing to know. My boys both have brown eyes, but I’m sure I have caught a few catch lights before. :)

    Oh and BTW…I LOVE the last pic of the baby! Too cute. :)

  9. I just love your articles. Very informative & easy to learn from/remember. Thanks for sharing your love of photography with others…I have learned so much!

  10. I would love to know what lens are u using here for the portraits and family photos and what are the settings


  11. avatar Sarah lumber :

    Great advise as ever. Catch lights bring your subjects eyes alive.

  12. awesome tip! I can’t wait for my baby to wake up from her nap so I can try it!

  13. 10 and 2 o’clock positions for catchlights are preferred as generally you would want the catchlight to mimic a reflection of the sun (upper half of the eye). In keeping with this train of thought, it’s also preferred to have only one visible catchlight. Something to keep in mind if using multiple light sources.

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