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Catchlights 101

One question I’m commonly asked is how to get catchlights. For any newbies out there, a catchlight is the reflection of the light source in your subject’s eye. It is what makes the eyes pop, or seem bright and alive. Here are some important things to consider when trying to get better catchlights:

Distance & Size: The size of your light source and its distance to your subject will affect the intensity of the catchlight. The closer and larger the catchlight, the larger the reflection. Pretty simple, right?

Shape: Catchlights can be little flecks, circles, squares, skinny rectangles, triangles, you name it. If you have control over your light source, you can control its shape to be reflected. For example, a window will show a rectangular catchlight, and the sun will show a circular catchlight.

Angle of Light: The light source needs to be low enough to be able to shine into the eyes. Midday sun -where the sun is directly overhead- will likely produce nasty shadows below the eyes and never add a catchlight. So, choose a time of day where the sun is lower in the sky. Or, if shooting in the beautiful shade, face your subject towards the brightest part of the sky. If it is difficult to tell where that is, watch the catchlight in your subject’s eyes as you turn them in a full circle to analyze the best angle.

Adding Catchlights: Adding catchlights is simple, as long as you have a main source of light. One way to add catchlights is to look for natural reflectors in the environment that are getting strong sun, like a sidewalk or side of a building. These large, natural reflectors will create more catchlight shapes to help illuminate the eyes. Or, grab a white sheet or pillowcase, car or photo reflector, or white matte board and place them opposite your light source, and angling back at your subject’s face. Adding reflectors is a great way to add more light to the eyes (and face!) helping the eyes appear lighter and brighter.

When strong catchlights aren’t present, some resort to Photoshop to enhance or even create catchlights. Unfortunately, adding artificial catchlights in post-production rarely look natural, which is why I recommend the techniques above. In summary, turn your subject towards the light! If you have further questions, I’m here to help! Leave questions and comments below in this post and I will get back to you soon.

  1. 1
    Vicky turner

    I’d like to show a catch light on a glass bottle I’ve drawn – any tips please. (It’s glass mosaic and not sure gphow to represent a catch light – mirror glass/white glass? Thank you.

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