Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Achieving Catchlights {Photography}

I decided that my post today needed to touch on one of the most basic yet vital parts of photography. Most of you do not aspire to be professional photographers, but I promise that everyone that owns a camera will benefit from this post! Especially when photographing people.
Have you ever heard of a catchlight? Catchlights are highlights in the subjects eyes that add depth, dimension and life to the eye. I know it is such a simple thing, but as simple as it is, knowing how to achieve them will make all the difference between a good image a great one.
So how do you achieve catchlights? I am a natural light photographer and do not even have a flash on my camera so for me, I am constantly aware of the light around me. When shooting indoors, I make sure I am near a big window, preferably facing North or South. Your subject doesn't have to be facing the window to have catchlights in their eyes. Try moving your subject around, but keeping their eyes towards the window. I know for me, I prefer side lighting for more depth and shadows and if you do it right, the catchlights can be gorgeous. Here is an example.

And here is an example without catchlights. He just put his head down slightly and this was the result. It is still such a cute image, but especially when photographing children, catchlights are a must! I will be honest. I had a hard time finding images without catchlights. I have gotten to the point that I won't even take the shot in my portrait work if the catchlights are not there. I will wait until they lift their head up or If I have to I will move them altogether.

When shooting outdoors there are many ways to achieve catchlights. When standing in the shade, the best thing to do is to face your subject towards the sun. Also, there are many natural reflectors such as sidewalks, buildings or even cars. Try wearing a white shirt while shooting. This will help produce more light in the subjects eyes. Especially when shooting backlit images. I have found that a reflector also works wonders in that type of lighting situation.

These next two images are similar, but if you notice in this image that only one of her eyes is slightly highlighted. To me, this is a much weaker image than the one below it. I feel like her eyes look dark and "dead".

This one is much better and both of her eyes have life in them.

In this particular shot, it was getting late and starting to get dark. The sun had gone behind the mountain so I used what I could to get my catchlights. I had her lay on the ground (which was a natural reflector) and then I had her facing the sun and looking up toward the sky. Even though the sun had gone down it was still lit up and was the perfect reflection of light into her eyes.

The best way I have found to get the eyes all lit up is by standing above my subject while shooting down. Your subject will naturally look up and their eyes will light up from the sky.

Another example of indoor side lighting. Notice his face it tilted toward the window.

I hope this was helpful to someone today. Happy shooting!

Oooh, this is something I need to work on SO badly!  Has anyone mastered this concept?  Link us to a post (or picture) where you have achieved catchlights..we'd love to see them!
Melynda is a natural light family photographer in Las Vegas, NV. To schedule an appointment with her, visit her site HERE.


Anonymous said...

Ok I have a question, every time I face my daughter towards the sun she squints and her eyes get watery and she starts rubbing and grimacing. Am I doing it wrong?

Katy said...

A past neighbor of mine was a photographer and she would occasionally dole out tips when I dropped by her house - this was one of the first tips she gave me to "take my pictures from good to great" as she said :) And it really does make a difference!

Melynda said...

Hi Connie! Email me at sweetashoneyphotographyatgmaildotcom. I have tried 3 times to post a response to your comment and each time it has erased :( Anyways, I would be happy to answer your question. Send me an email.

Jill said...

Thanks for such great tips! I have always loved when I happened to get the "sparkle" in pictures I've taken (like the one of my son in this post http://madeitonmonday.blogspot.com/2011/09/cozy.html), but hadn't thought about watching for it and intentionally capturing them. I think you just transformed the way I approach taking pictures.

Educational Resources said...

Lovely pictures and awesome photography. Kids are so cuteeeeeeeee!!!

Amber D. said...

Thank you! I always thought people photoshopped their eyes to look that way, now I know their secrets : ) Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Great tip! I haven´t been aware of it, but now I´m going to work on that!

Have a great week!


Angie Ochoa said...

I am always trying to get those catchlights. I love seeing the "sparkle" in the eyes of my subjects. Here is a photo of my little guy, taken by our window which has GORGEOUS natural light that flows in during the winter time: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48862344@N05/5385650706/in/set-72157625889207287/

The catchlights came from the sun hitting the floor in front of him.

amanda b. said...

Wonderful tips! Here is an example of some wonderful catch lights I achieved in my daughter's eyes: http://www.amandabphoto.com/2011/09/growing-up_27.html

Love it! Thank you so much!

amanda b. said...

Wonderful tips! Here is an example of some catch lights I achieved in my daughter's eyes: http://www.amandabphoto.com/2011/09/growing-up_27.html

Thanks so much for the tips!

K-Sue said...

Great tip - thank you for sharing it. I think it will make a difference in my photos.

Melody said...

Great tut, very helpful!

Photography by Kelsey K. Anderson said...

Great post and absolutely beautiful images! Saw you on Pinterest.

Unknown said...

thnx alot for the insight.. never thought abt the catchlight. will always keep it in my mind.