Catchlights in Portraits

If you feel your portraits aren’t engaging with your audience, this could be down to not having the eyes lit correctly.

Perfecting the catchlights in a portrait is crucial to getting your subject looking strong, energised, dramatic and realistic.

What are Catchlights?

Catchlights are little reflections of a light source spotted in the eyes of a portrait.

It’s appearance, though small, is enough to light the colours in the eyes, which is one of the first places a viewer will look at in a portrait.

Without catchlights, eyes can look dull, flat, colourless and uninspired. While some styles of portraits work well without a catchlight the majority are improved with having one.

How to Create Catchlights?

catchlights Example of Lighting

You don’t need any fancy lighting equipment or dedicated tools to make catchlights – all you need is a light source.

The position of your subject relative to the light source is how you create on. Position your light source between 0-45 degrees to your subject.

Raise the light position so it is always at a 30-45 degree position relative to the subject’s eyes.

Tip – Be careful if your subject is wearing glasses. Catchlights on glasses can be a distraction. You may need to raise or lower the camera angle to see past the catchlights on the glasses but still have it in their eyes.

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Where Should the Catchlights Be?

Portrait photographers referred to it as the ‘10 and 2 o’clock’ positions.

If you divide up the shape of the eye like a clock face, then the catchlight should fall between the 10 and 2 positions at the top of the eyes.

While this is the rule 95% of the time, there are times that you can break this rule.

If you’re trying to create a more horror-type look then you may want to place a light at your subject’s feet which would cause catchlights to appear at the 6 o’clock position instead.

Place catchlights between the 10 and 2 position of a clock

Summary

Catchlights are simple to place, and they make a big difference to the overall finish of your portrait. Remember to watch out for glares and distracting reflections caused by glasses.

If you’re outdoors and shooting more candid portraits, catchlights can be that little less consistent. Try to make sure the light source is falling towards your subject’s face to give you the best chance of lighting those eyes.

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The other challenge when shooting through glass is the tinting. Unfortunately, architects and designers didn’t think about us photographers when creating these skyscrapers.

Their windows are invariably tinted in some way to help with heating.

This means that some of your photos may have a green/grey tint to them.

It’s not the biggest issue as you can rebalance this tint in editing with the ‘tint’ slider for example.