Photography tips – catchlights

I know I have spoken to this subject a few times, but thought I would go more in-depth on it in this post.  If there is one thing you will see that differentiates a portrait photo taken by a professional-hobbyist and one taken by a clueless amatuer (which was/is us when we started taking pictures)…it is catchlights, or lack thereof.

Dead eyes, are eyes that lack catchlights.  They are dark and bleak and lifeless.  Catchlights, are the reflection of light in the subjects eyes that adds life to them.  See the example below of photos with and without catchlights.  Which is more appealing?

No Catchlights

No catchlights



Now let me tell you…this isn’t something that I necessarily noticed when I first started taking photos.  Now, it is one of the first things I notice with a photo…the eyes.  I also thought that the pinpoints that the flash produced were the same as catchlights, but they really aren’t.  Catchlights are natural, pinpoints are not.  Before taking a photo, look at the subjects eyes and how the natural light reflects in them.  That is what you want to capture.  That is how they appear naturally…and what you want to see in your photography.

Now, how do you capture it?  You have to make sure they are looking towards a light source.  So, in essence, you are catching the light in their eyes.

Not all photos necessarily need catchlights, though.  When you are far away from your subject it is usually pretty hard to get catchlights.  It is important that the eyes aren’t dark and shadowed, though.  A good photo will allow you to see the color of the eyes and the eyes won’t be just dark pits.  This is something that is hard to do when the sun is high in the sky, since it usually shadows the eyes.  A reflector can be used to bounce the light back to the subject from below.  That was a new purchase for me that I’m just itching to try out.

When it gets warmer that is….

Have fun catching the light!

3 Replies to “Photography tips – catchlights”

  1. Awesome – thanks! I can’t wait to try this out with my nephews! I have looked at your photos and thought how great the eyes and lighting in general look. Something that I have learned is that you can’t beat natural light.

  2. My computer is showing your pics to be thumbnail size, and I’m unable to see what you are describing in your text (although you are quite thorough with your descriptions!) Are the thumbnails supposed to be clickable to show an enlarged pic or am I just dense today and missing something?

    I’ve been reading through your photography tips and have already learned several useful tips. Thanks for doing such a great job!

Comments are closed.