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If you make portraits – be they of fish, birds, insects, people or animals, you need to think about catchlight.

They bring life to the subject. Without them, you might as well be shooting at a wax museum or taxidermy.

Here are some tips for finding the catchlight.

a. Make sure the light source is BEHIND the camera. If not, it’s going to be pretty tough to see that reflection in the eye of the subject.

b. If you can’t find the catchlight in the subject’s eye, move the camera until you can.

c. If moving the camera doesn’t help you find the catchlight, move the subject.

d. If no natural catchlight exists, consider using a reflector or fill flash.

e. Avoid multiple catch lights. There is only one sun so here on Earth so let’s make sure we have no more than one catchlight in the eye.

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Join the conversation! 14 Comments

  1. a.) I think ‘behind’ is not necessary. Im space limited and I put it on the side or between.

    Reply
  2. You’re so right. When I was in professional retouching we always made sure to check the catchlight. If there was more than one, we got rid of it. If they weren’t in the same place in the eye for some reason, we moved one. If there was no catchlight we added them. Great tip!

    Reply
  3. If you’re space constrained, then you can make your own reflector with tin foil (slightly crumpled) wrapped around an opened conflakes box. Works a treat, but best results are always with the light behind and perhaps sitting at a north facing window where the light is a lot softer.

    Reply
  4. How do you deal with glasses? Catchlights are great in eyes, but not being able to see someone’s eyes because of a reflection is not.

    Reply
  5. “How do you deal with glasses?”

    Raising the light source higher, or tilting the glasses forward a bit usually solves the problem. If I can’t raise my light source any higher I have the subject lift their glasses about 1/4″ off their ears. It doesn’t show in the photos, but tilts the glasses forward enough to eliminate the reflection.

    Reply
  6. Thanks for the tip Scott! I just got and ezybox and will keep this in mind when I’m experimenting on portraits :)

    Reply
  7. I think this brings me to ask the question: what is catch light? the article seems to be written with the assumption that the reader might not know what it is, but without knowing what it means, I can’t make the jump from the first to the second paragraph.

    Reply
  8. I remember watching some making of video for the LOTR trilogy and how they used like 16 catch lights in Galadriel’s eyes for one shot.

    Thanks to this post I will add catch light to my list of things to make sure I include in future photographs.

    Reply
  9. Do you think it’s wicked to just put in a catchlight in Lightroom or PS? If so, I’m wicked…

    Reply
  10. i am experimenting with catchlight- taking portraits of my six month old son – and found your site useful, thanks

    http://alliwaw.wordpress.com/2010/03/26/catch-the-light/

    Reply
  11. I agree that it’s not “necessary” Aldo but it is generally a best practice. Putting it on the side can be ugly.

    Reply
  12. For my senior pictures they had me remove the lenses from my glasses because they created a distortion.

    Reply
  13. Jeff you would be wrong to assume you know my assumptions… And it’s not an article it’s a series of tips. A catch light is – in its simplest form – the light reflecting in the eye in a portrait.

    Reply
  14. “Catchlight” was used in passing on a recent twip podcast and I was interested to know what it was. As a novice about to purchase a backdrop and some cheap continuous lighting this tip will be amazingly helpful. Many thanks for the explaination+tip.

    Reply

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