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Photo Tips > Catch Lights

Catch lights are the reflection in the eye of a light source.

They add vitality, personality, to a portrait.

Here's a well-known painting by Vermeer.

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Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer (c. 1665-1666)
Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague

Compare the original, to a version without the catch lights.

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With Catch Lights Without Catch Lights

Catch lights are usually beneficial.

They also help when the eyes are in shadow, or when the eyes are dark colored.

For example, in the portrait below, the woman's eyes are not well lighted.

The catch lights work to mitigate the poor illumination.

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Study Catch Lights

You can look at a catch light to see what created it.

Look for:

1) Shape

2) Color

3) Lines across the catch light

In the right eye, from the above portrait, you can see two catch lights.

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The lower one is rectangular, and is probably a reflector.

The other catch light, which is fainter, is from the sky.

The black lines crossing this catch light were created by the eye lashes.

Both catch lights are slightly blue, due to the color of the sky.

The sun, a flash, or a studio light, will create small, circular catch lights.

A studio light reflected off of an umbrella, or a window, will create larger catch lights that have the shape of the light source.

You may be able to see the spokes of an umbrella (if it's not a spoke-less umbrella), or the mullions of a window.

Adding Catch Lights

When Photographing

The easiest point at which to create catch lights is when you're doing the portrait.

Studio

In the studio, position your light to create catch lights.

Catch lights, most often, should be placed between ten o'clock and two o'clock above the iris.

Catch lights below the iris, say at the 6 o'clock position, may attract attention.

Make sure additional lights or reflectors don't create another set of catch lights.

If there are two sets of catch lights, one set should be dimmer than the other.

If you're lighting set up produces distracting catch lights, remove them later when editing.

Outdoors

The sun can create catch lights, as well as a reflector.

You can also use your flash to do so.

If you're using fill flash to brighten shadows, the flash will create catch lights.

If there's no need for fill flash, you can create catch lights by setting the flash exposure compensation from between about -2.0 to -3.0.

Pop up the flash manually, and experiment, to determine the best setting.

You want a catch light, but you don't want the flash to be bright enough to be visible on the face of the subject.

Post Production

Vermeer added catch lights to his portrait.

You can, too, with Photoshop Elements.

Go to Adding Catch Lights.

Fun

The photograph below may have been done by Mitchell Grafton.

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Mitchell Grafton?