Catch Lights & Portrait Photography

Catch Lights & Portrait Photography

Here at Weddit, we have shared an array of photography tips so far (covering numerous topics of course) and luckily for you, today’s article won’t be any different! So, our topic for today’s blog post is called ‘Catch Lights & Portrait Photography’. However, the main point of focus is the ‘catch light’ element in today’s post. So, we guess that the best place to start is by explaining what catch lights are...

What Are Catch Lights? - A ‘catch light’ is simply the highlight of a light source reflected off of the surface of the eye. This highlight adds depth and dimension to the eye, and gives the eyes life in a portrait or snapshot image. So, during your portrait shoots, you’re likely to come across this affect that the light creates on screen.

Catch lights come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the shape and size of the light source and its distance from the subject. For example, a large, round umbrella reflector will produce a larger, more pronounced catch light than a small portable electronic flash. Many portrait photographers use a reflector placed in the lap of the subject, or in a similar position. This usually produces a larger catch light in the lower half of the eye (which isn’t very flattering if we’re being completely honest).

In portraiture, when more than one light is used, the eyes may end up showing two or more catch lights. It’s the photographer’s job to decide which ones to save and which should be removed after the photo has been taken (using photographic software such as Photoshop).

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Positioning Catch Lights - The position of catch lights are determined by the placement of the ‘key’ and ‘fill’ lights and changes as their height and angle away from the camera lens change. A studio portrait will show the final product with a single catch light in each eye, typically in the 10 or 2 o’clock position, created by the main (key) light.

The real reason for the conventional placement of catch lights at 10 or 2 o’clock is unknown, but the earliest portrait painters found that the most pleasing balance resulted when either of those positions was used.

Consider that early artists didn’t have the luxury of multiple lights in a studio, using instead the Sun or light from a large open window. The result was a single catch light and because the Sun illuminated the subject from a high angle, the catch light reflected from a higher spot on the eye.

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Experiment with Catch Lights - We encourage you to become a student of catch lights, particularly if you have a keen interest in portrait work. Experiment with removing, then adding, catch lights to the eyes in your portraits. Use different sizes and positions, and notice the effect that they have on your images.

Before photographic software was developed, unwanted catch lights had to be removed by something called spotting, which is a labour-intensive process involving a fine camel-hair brush and an assortment of dyes. Adding a catch light was possible, but even more difficult. Luckily for you, nowadays, an element such as this can be added with ease using editing software.

Use every opportunity to study the position and shape of catch lights in other photographers’ work so that yours look as natural as they do. Study the paintings of old master portrait artists to learn how they used light too. Your portrait work will benefit from this effort and it will help you to improve your own images.

There is no hard-and-fast rule regarding catch lights; it’s simply a matter of personal taste and preference. You will see all manner of catch light size and placement in journals and in professional portraits. There is no better or worse way to place them. In fact, the only ones who probably really notice them, are photographers! Never the less, it’s still something which you should think about when capturing portrait images for a professional feel.

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We hope you’ve found our article on catch lighting useful! Join us back here soon for our upcoming articles. In the meantime, follow us on Instagram We’ll see you over there soon...

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