Make your Portraits Amazing with Catchlights

If I told you there was one thing that you can start doing right now which would make all of your portraits amazing, you might not believe me. But all you have to do is try using catchlights for yourself to see that they really work. A catchlight is the highlight you see in a subject’s eye. It is caused by a bright area reflecting back on the surface of the eye. Normally, in a portrait, this would be the studio lights that you are using. In an outdoor setting, it could be your flashgun. Or it may be the sun itself. They add a little sparkle to the eyes, and make the subject seem more lively. In other words, they really bring your portrait to life. 

Let’s take a look at how to create catchlights now. The best thing to do is to look both with your eyes and through the lens. Until you get used to the idea of creating them, this may take some time. It’s important to get this right, however. In order to get the right effect, remember to always face your subject towards the light.

Natural lighting can help you to achieve the effect that you want. For example, if you are indoors, ask your model to turn their eyes towards the window. If you are outside, then there are three positions which the sun could be in to create catchlights. These are behind you, or off to either side. You can also use a reflector or a flashgun to create a catchlight in outdoor situations. However, remember that the shape of the catchlight will match whatever causes it. This also means that your shape can be captured within the catchlight if you stand in front of the light source.

Often, we can create very interesting catchlights by using studio lighting techniques. You will have more control in this environment, allowing you to create the shape and position that you want. If you put a snoot onto one of your lights, you can direct light very easily to where you wish it to go. Large umbrellas or softboxes can also provide catchlights with interesting shapes. You may have seen circular patterns of lighting in a model’s eyes before. This is created with the use of a ring flash. The ring flash is normally placed around the lens, though it can be placed off camera for different effects as well. It provides great, even portrait lighting, as well as the circular catchlight.

Finally, if you have not managed to capture a catchlight on the day, there is one option left to you. You can cheat and add one in post production! A number of companies have created actions or brushes which you can use to add these in without much effort. You could do it yourself too, of course. Either use the dodge tool or a white paintbrush to create a white dot.

If you are a model looking to catch those lights, remember always to turn towards the light source. This will give you a more attractive portrait. You can take a little responsibility for the outcome of the photoshoot if you choose to create the catchlights yourself. I can show you how to do this through my model tuition programme, so get in touch now to book.

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