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Look for Catch Lights

Look for Catch Lights

[box type=”1″ align=”left”] EDITOR’S NOTE: In an effort to help parents who are completely clueless about how to take a decent photo, we will on occasion post tips from Shannon Carlson of Photography By Shannon.
[/box]They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In a picture of a person, the eyes are usually the most important part. They are what bring out the life and personality of the person. Catch Lights help you to highlight the eyes. A catch light is a sign that you have adequate light in your subject’s eyes.

An eye without a catch light looks dull and dark. The same eyes with a good catch light are bright and full of color. A good way to get catch lights is to have the subjects face looking up at you with your light source, (probably the sun) slightly off to the side. To prevent squinting, place your subject in full shade. Stand facing your subject with the open sky, not the direct sun behind your back. The brightness of the sky will give your subject nice bright eyes. If you can’t find shade, place the sun behind your subject and use a reflector to bounce light back into their eyes. A light colored wall or pavement, sand, or a white t-shirt all work well for this purpose. Start really looking for catch lights in your regular life. Look for catch lights in people’s eyes as you talk to them. You can see how they change as their heads move. Watch the movements and note the best angles for nice bright eyes.


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The best placement for your catch light is on the iris at about 10 or 2 o’clock. A good catch light will be relatively large as well. The catch lights caused by on camera flashes are called “pin lights” because they are so small. Pin lights DO light up the eye, but do not give the same depth and variation of color that a “proper” catch light does. Pin lights are considered unattractive by most photographers and are avoided if possible. Avoid using your on camera flash when possible, this not only eliminates pin lights, but red eye as well!


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View Comments (3)
  • So interesting – I had never even heard of catch lights before! I would love to learn more about how to take decent pics of my daughter. I wonder if there is a class in Huntsville that would teach me how to use all the functions on my DSLR?

    • Katherine – sorry I didn’t catch this comment earlier. Actually, they frequently teach classes like that at Lowe Mill. Check the calendar on their site http://www.lowemill.net. And watch here too. If we get enough moms interested, maybe we’ll start a class!

  • I definitely agree with the article on how much difference catch lights can make for an engaging portrait, though I don’t necessarily agree with the examples above to illustrate the point as the general image quality and quality of light between the good an the bad examples varies dramatically. The “bad” examples aren’t good photos and makes the comparison seem more dramatic than it is.

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