Many of the best portraits draw you in with a set of of striking eyes that shimmer in the light. To create visual impact, photographers often look for catchlights in their subject’s eyes. Finding that tiny glimmer of light can help enhance your phoneography and take your portraits to the next level. The good news is you do not need a fancy camera or expensive editing software to create superb catchlights. To create catchlights in your phoneography, all you need is a light source, the power of observation and your camera phone.
What is a Catch Light?
In photography, catchlight is a technical term for that glimmer of light found in your subject’s eye. A catch light is simply the reflection of a light source in the eyes of the person you are photographing. Catchlights bring a portrait to life by adding visual interest, dimension and depth to your subject’s face.
Creating catchlights isn’t difficult. It just requires a little practice and a basic understanding of a few simple concepts. These tips and tricks will help you achieve intense bright eyes. With a little practice, your friends and family won’t believe that you captured such a great shot with your phone camera!
Find the Light
The most important step in creating catchlights is finding the light. Once you find the light, you want your subjects to face it, so you can see it reflected in their eyes. So before you shoot, look into your subject’s eyes and make sure you can see that beautiful glimmer of light. If you are having a hard time finding that glimmer of light, consider positioning your subject with the tips listed below.
1. Look Up!
The sun is high in the sky, so have your subject look up towards the heavens! When your subject looks up, the open sky reflects in their eyes and creates that lovely fleck of light. If your subject is looking up, it is helpful to get up higher and take the photo from above. This puts you, the photographer, in between the subject and the light source.
In the photo below, my son Luca is sitting in a baby chair on the floor. He is looking up at me from the floor. This helps create the catchlights in his eyes.
2. Seek the Shade
Open shade is the sweet spot on the edge of the shade and the sun. When you are taking photos outside, and trying to create catchlights, it is helpful to sit your subject in this sweet spot. Placing your subject on the edge of the shade helps minimize colour casts that occur in deeper shade and reduces squinting and blown highlights that happen in full sun. Being on the edge of the shade and facing your subject towards the light helps create vibrant catchlights, and brightly lit faces. When your subject is in the shade, make sure they are facing the brightest part of the sky and look for that glimmer of light before you shoot.
3. Use a Window
If you are inside a building, you still need to find that light! Look for it by placing your subject next to a window. Position your subject with their eyes facing the light source, ideally at about a 45 degree angle. Positioning your subject this way helps create nice shadows and avoids washing out the face.
4. Use a Reflector
Use a reflector. This is phoneography, so I don’t expect you to carry one around with you. Instead, use what’s around you. Are you wearing a white shirt? Is there a white piece of paper around? Maybe a lake, river or another body of water? All of these things work as a reflector. Face your subject towards a reflector (like your chest in a white shirt) and use it to bounce light into their eyes and create a catchlight.
5. Time of Day
They don’t call it the golden hour for nothing. Early morning or late afternoon, also known as the golden hour, is the ideal lighting condition for creating catchlights. This is because the sun is lower in the sky and it is easy to have the subject face the light.
6. Understanding Shape and Size
Catchlights come in all shapes and sizes including, circles, squares, triangles and flecks. The shape of your catch light is related to the source of your light. For example, catchlights created from a window’s light will appear square, while catchlights from the sun will appear round. Both the size of the light source and its proximity to your subject will impact the size of your catchlight. The closer your subject is to the source of light, the larger the catchlight in their eye will appear.
Creating beautiful catchlights in portraits taken with your smartphone is easy! You just need to be aware of your light source and its relation to your subject. Create those stunning bright eyes by having your subject face the light, either directly or indirectly (with a reflector). These simple tips will impress your Instagram followers by creating a sense of focus and visual interest within your portraits.