How to Improve Portraits with Catchlights

Catchlights are often the key to impactful photos of people. They inject a sense of life into a portrait and immediately grab the viewer’s attention. Professional portrait photographer Miguel Quiles shares how you can create interesting catchlights to take stunning portraits:

“A catchlight is a light source that causes a specular highlight in a subject’s eye in an image.”

catchlight definition

You can purposefully add catchlights in an image to add some spark to the subject’s eyes. The eyes thus instantly grab the viewers’ attention and establish a connection with them. Catchlights are key to drawing people into your portraits.

Creating Interesting Catchlights On-Location

When preparing to take an image, we often make sure that the subject is well-lit. When doing so, make sure that you also pay attention to the light falling on the subject’s eyes. The important thing to consider is to make sure that light is reflected in the subject’s eyes. But if the light source is too far away, the catchlights will be too small to make any significant difference.

catch light from distant light source

Catchlights don’t make much of an impact when the light source is far away.

Just by having the subject closer to the light source or the reflecting surface, you can dramatically improve the size and impact of the catchlights. When you’re on-location, make sure that you turn the subject toward a bright area and move him/her as close as possible to it.

catch light from light source close to the subject

Creating Interesting Catchlights Using Off-Camera Flash

“If you’re taking images with off-camera flash, creating interesting catchlights is even easier.”

The shape of the light source dictates the shape of the catchlights when using off-camera flash. A round light-shaper like a beauty dish creates a round catchlight. Similarly, when using a reflector, the catchlight will take the shape of the reflector. You can use a combination of various shapes of light sources and reflectors to create catchlights as you like.

circular catch light using beauty dish

catch light from reflector

Whether your next portrait shoot is on-location or in a studio, make sure that you pay attention to the catchlights to create attention-grabbing portraits.

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