Photography 101: Catchlights

In my last photography post I briefly mentioned catchlights, and I thought that would be a good topic for my next post.

So, what’s a catchlight?

A catchlight is the “sparkle” in your eye in a photograph. It’s the reflection of the light source in the eyes.

In the picture above, the light source was a softbox turned horizontally. Do you see the rectangle shape?

Our eyes are constantly reflecting all the lights around us. Therefore, in photographs, eyes without catchlights look dull and lifeless. So, it’s something you should always be thinking about when you’re taking a portrait. (Snapshots don’t matter quite as much. After all, if you’re snapping a cute random shot with your iPhone, you’re probably not going to use a flash or worry about your light source. Then again, you’re not going to frame that one and put it on the wall either.)

Technically, the catchlight is considered most pleasing when it happens in the 10:00 or 2:00 position of the eye. So, that should be your goal, but just having consistent catchlights in your portraits are a good start.

The following are some examples of catchlights and their sources:

Catchlight Source: Camera Flash (Indoors)

Catchlight Source: Large rectangular window.
(You can also see a reflection from a lamp or other light source in the room).

Catchlight Source: Camera Flash (Outdoors)
If you look closely, you can also see the sky in her eyes.

Catchlight Source: Diffused sunlight over a fence on a covered porch

Catchlight Source: Studio Softbox, turned vertically

Multiple subjects in a photo should have the same catchlights in their eyes because their light source is the same. In this picture, the light came in from a window across the room. See how it is reflected identically in the two sets of eyes?

So, do you notice catchlights in your photos? They’re actually fun to look for. You can look at the eyes of models in magazines and tell what kind of light they used to make the photo — usually a softbox (square) or an umbrella (round).

Start paying attention to your light and work on creating beautiful catchlights to make those eyes sparkle!

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About Laura

A Christian wife, mother, daughter, former educator, photographer, amateur chef, pretend gardener, alto 🎶, book nerd, cancer-survivor and laundry-hater.

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