What is a catchlight and why is it so important?
A catchlight is quite simply the reflection of light in your subject’s eyes – the spark or glimmer that brings their face to life, and allows the viewer a glance into the soul of your subject. Including a catchlight in your portrait will bring a deeper connection for your viewer, and ultimately make your photograph more appealing and attractive, adding dimension and depth – a portrait without a catchlight can look a bit flat and two dimensional.
Without catchlight – the image looks a bit flat and is lacking some dimension
The catchlights are present and bring her eyes to life
How do I create a catchlight?
In any given situation, think about your light source. Inside, maybe it’s a window, outside, during the daytime, the sky. Ultimately, facing your subject towards a light source is the way to get a catchlight in your subject’s eyes immediately. If you’re not sure, you can ask your subject to turn slowly, until you see the glimmer appear in their eye – be mindful of the shadows on their face as they are turning too. If you’re trying to create a more candid shot, you will nee to be a bit more creative – after considering your light source, and where it is in relation to your subject, move yourself roughly in line with it and bob around until you see the light reflecting.
Being slightly above your subject, so that they need to look up a little, will make it easier to achieve a catchlight too..
Your subject doesn’t need to look up much, just enough to catch the light from the sky in their eyes.
The catchlight will vary in shape, position and size depending on the light source, the angle it is coming from, and it’s distance from the subject. Catchlights which fall into the top half of the eye look most natural.
The top images were made outside and the catchlights tend towards being more round, the two images at the bottom were made inside, and you can clearly see the window shapes in the catchlights
What about a backlit image?
I’m particularly fond of backlit images, and find that I shoot into the light source relatively often. But that means that the light will not be in front of the subjects eyes, so how do you create a catchlight in this situation? Use a reflector… you can use a specially designed photography reflector – they are relatively inexpensive and most are pop up so fold down quite small, so are easy to carry around, but I find that they are a distraction and can interrupt my interaction with my subject, so i don’t use them often. Instead, I almost always wear a white top when shooting to bounce some light back into the scene, or you can use other objects around you – a white wall, a light pavement, or best of all – water, to bounce some light into the scene.
When I made this image I was wearing a white top and shooting with the mainly white wall of the house behind me – the sun; the main light source, is behind her, but there are clear catchlights in her eyes