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.
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.
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.