What is a catch light and why you should use it?

Catch Light is a light source that causes a specular highlight in a subject's eyes. The technique is used both in still and motion picture photography. Catch light might be a result of lighting methods, or purposely engineered to add a spark to a subject's eye during photography. Adding a catch light helps focusing attention on a subject's eyes and adds life into eyes that might otherwise be lost within other elements of a photo. In portraiture eyes without a catch light might appear dull and lifeless. 

How to create a catch light in a portrait? 

To create a catch light you will need a bright source of light, reflector, flash or softbox that will reflect in the subject's eye. Natural source like the sun will also create a catch light. Make sure there is nothing in the path between the subject's eyes and a light source. Having your subject facing the sun might be uncomfortable or dazzle your subject so make sure they are turned slightly away and are not looking directly into the sun. 

If you are photographing indoors, position subject near the window or bright light source and you should see light reflecting in their eyes. If not, try adjust the position slightly. Many times it is just an inch to the side for the catch light to become visible. 

Closer your subject is to light source bigger the catch light is. I aim for a large round catch lights, but it is increasingly popular to have different shapes as well. Some photographers use light tubes and shape them either to triangle or a square. This adds interesting variation to round catch light.


In this photo I have positioned my Elinchrom 135cm Octa softbox to the right and up of my subject and just off the camera to create large octagonal (almost round) catch light.

Creating a catch light outdoors without a use of artificial light. 

To achieve a better result position your subject so that it's aimed at biggest light source available - the sky. To prevent damage to the eye do not instruct anybody to look directly into the sun.

If you don't pose your subject great way how to make them look up is to photograph slightly about their eye line. Your subject will naturally look up to your lens and the sky behind you will reflect in their eyes. 

Catch light and reflectors

By using reflector, photographers can create catch lights in almost any situation, whether it is inside or outside, sunny or cloudy. Use a silver reflector to bounce some light back into the face and eyes. The best thing is you can see results before even touching a camera and be sure you get catch light in your shot. The small size silver reflector can be hand-held by photographer or subject just under their chin. This is very easy to use method and shouldn't be overlooked. 

See how much life and vibrant does catch light bring into this portrait? Now it's your turn.....