Catch Lights!

How to Handle Catchlights in Portrait Photography, by Dan Eitreim

Picture Correct, February 22, 2020

I’ve previously discussed the importance of catchlights. Without them, your subject’s eyes look dull and lifeless. They help add interest to portraits and are a very effective way to add depth to the eye. Ideally, catch lights should be round. This tends to be the most natural and visually pleasing shape (reflections of the sun are round, and we are used to seeing the round shape). The shape of your catchlights is generally only a problem if you are using a square reflector or diffuser. If you are going for a contest winner, you will want to retouch your catchlights to make them round.Be careful about the number of catch lights visible in the eye. Your fill light or reflectors will add additional catchlights to the eyes. You usually only want one in each eye. Retouch or adjust your lighting to remove any extras. Lastly, the catch light (ideally, provided by the main light) often looks best at the 11:00 or 1:00 o’clock position within the subject’s eye. Knowing this will help you determine how high to place the main light. It should be at about 45 degrees from the axis between the camera and the model and high enough to be slightly above their head. Every face is different, so watch the shadows and catch lights to determine the right placement for the lighting pattern–shadows to determine the light pattern, catchlights to determine the height of the light source.

Note from Dan Holmes: Catchlights are also important with wildlife nature photos! Without them the animal's eyes can look like black holes, and this will almost always hurt the photo in image competition! I've dodged in a bit of lightness, or cloned in a bit of white with lowish transparency to add a bit of life into the eyes.