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Catchlights Indoors: Get some light into those eyes!

March 16, 2012

A picture with light in a person’s eyes is so much more vibrant and interesting to look at than one without.  They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and being able to see the eyes clearly makes it so much easier to connect with the subject!  In this post we’ll go over how to get something called “catchlights.”  Catchlights are the reflections of light in your subject’s eyes.  They can be reflections of the sky, a window, a reflector, any large source of light.

This picture shows a location in my house near a north facing window.

I took a few photos there to show you the difference that getting light into the eyes can make.  For this next photo, I turned off the overhead light and had my son face AWAY from the window.  There is no light source available to put a large amount of light into his eyes.  You can see how dull his eyes appear.  They aren’t full of life!

All I did differently for the next shot was to place my little guy at at 45 degree angle facing the window. The light now is reflecting in his eyes and the photo is much more attractive!

The closer you are to the window and the bigger the window is, the bigger the catchlight will be.

Placing your subject at a 45 degree angle to the window (instead of directly facing it)  will give you nicer lighting on the face, and it will help place the catchlights at a pleasant location (10:00 and 2:00 are the technically “correct” locations for catchlights).

Sometimes you break the “rules” and that’s ok, too! Here my little guy is lying down on the floor with his feet toward the window. I stood on a chair right next to him and had my camera strap securely fastened!  Shooting from this angle and position created catchlights at the bottom of his eyes which isn’t technically correct, but it’s better than no light in the eyes!

Additional light source: Reflector bouncing back light from the top left of image.

What you want to avoid is having pinlights. Pinlights are the tiny little spots of light reflecting in the eyes that are from overhead house lighting and direct flashes. See the difference here? There are a few white dots, one from an overhead light, and one from a window that is REALLY far away.  This is not what you want to go for!

Here’s another example of what to avoid. The pop up flash here has washed out my little guy’s face, and has put harsh pinlights in the middle of his eyes.

So, to sum it up, try to pay attention to your subject’s eyes!  Are they reflecting light?  If not, is there a better location you could use?

1. Look for spots in your house with good natural ambient light (north and south facing windows are great!)

2. Turn off artificial lighting (lamps, overhead lights, etc.)

3. Turn off your flash

4. Place your subject at a 45 degree angle to the window.

5. Put yourself close to the window (but to the side so you’re not blocking the light!) and watch the light reflecting in your subject’s eyes.

6. Focus on the eye closest to you and snap some pictures!

I hope that this little tip changes your photography for the better. It was the first real tip that I learned and it made such a difference for my photography! Have fun!

This is one of my first experiments with catchlights back in August 2011. My focus wasn't great, but it was exciting to see some life in my photos for the first time!

Posted by Sonja (MWAC host)

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