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How to Get Catchlights in Your Portrait Photos

Capturing beautiful catchlights is a crucial skill you need to learn in portraiture. Using it properly helps make your subject’s eyes look more alive.

In this article, we’ll show you how to use catchlight photography to make your portraits look engaging.

What Is a Catchlight?

Once you delve into portrait photography, you’ll encounter the term catchlight a lot. That’s why it’s essential to know what it is and what you can do with it.

In simple terms, a catchlight is a light reflection in the eyes of your subject. That means you’ll find it in your photos no matter what.

More experienced photographers know how to use catchlights strategically to light up their subject’s eyes.

In the next sections, we’ll teach you how to manipulate your catchlights to make your model’s eyes sparkle. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take a lot of technical know-how to do effectively.

Light Sources for Catchlights

There are two main types of lighting you can use to produce catchlights. The most common one is natural light which comes mostly from the sun.

Then there’s artificial light which comes from all sorts of electric light sources.

Natural lighting is perfect for beginners since it doesn’t need an on and off switch. All you have to do is shoot in the daytime and you got yourself a catchlight thanks to the sun.

The only issue is that the sun moves throughout the day. Since it’s not static, you’ll have to chase the light while your taking photos.

Next, we have artificial lighting. It has many variations from regular light bulbs to professional flash strobes.

The technical skills required to use artificial lights depend on which type you choose.

As a beginner, you can start with regular light bulbs since they produce a steady stream of light much like the sun.

But as you get better, you can also experiment with strobes to help you improve the quality of your catchlights.

Capturing Catchlights Outdoors

When you’re outdoors, your main source of light is going to be the sun. As mentioned before, this is the easiest method you can use for creating a catchlight.

When shooting outside, the secret is to figure out where to position your subject to get the catchlight you want.

Have your model face the sun so it reflects in their eyes. But you can also have them turn away from the light source as long as there’s a reflective surface (such as windows or mirrors) in front of them.

To create the best catchlight, you need to look for elements that would create a “frame” within the eyes. It could be anything from buildings to mountains on the horizon.

You can even use the clouds to diffuse the sun and create soft orbs around the eyes.

In most cases, it’s best to shoot during the golden hour when the sun is low on the horizon. That way, you can capture the silhouettes in the eyes of your subject as well.

Of course, you can still photograph catchlight photography even when it’s not sunrise or sunset. As long as you find structures you can use as a frame, you’ll end up with beautiful results.