If you've never heard of this term, or perhaps have, but had no idea with that the photographer was referring to, then the next five minutes should be very enlightening (no pun - ok - a little pun intended there) for you. Capturing catchlights is very popular technique in portraiture and for good reason! A catch light is a spark of light in your subject’s eyes. This spark will help draw the viewer’s attention to your subject’s eyes making them full of life and, well, sparkling.
Technically speaking a catchlight is a light source that causes a specular highlight (something super shiny) in the subject's eyes in an image and they can be created a number of ways. The absence of them can really drag a portrait down, making it dull and lifeless.
Look at the images of Sula below; because she's a black dog and we photographed her with low-key lighting, we really need to see both of her eyes and in this pose there's barely a wisp of a catchlight in her camera-right eye. She looks like a pirate! But with a slight turn of her head toward the light, bingo! We've got bright eyes popping in this black dog against a dark gray background. Image how lifeless this image would look if we didn't have catchlights in her eyes?
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You don't need to be in a studio or have a flash to create a catchlight, you can use any bright source of light like the sun. MacArthur on the left and Abby on the right were both photographed in their backyard with natural light, here the sky provides the bright light to add a sparkle to their eyes (and you can even see the blue sky in Abby's catchlights!).
I used the bright sun bouncing off the white gravel road to reflect light up into the eyes of Bear; he's in the shade, but see that sparkle in his eyes? This stunner is available for adoption by the way! If you'd like to learn more about him, or any of the other great dogs available from Cane Rosso Rescue visit their website. Giving back to animals in need is core to the mission and values of Penny Whistle Photography, you can see all of my volunteer partners here.
When photographing indoors, place your subject near a window and let the light in! I positioned my own dog, and favorite model Ginger, near a bank of windows in our south-facing sunroom to put catchlights in her eyes. You can even see the windowpane pattern in the close up. Incorporating catchlights is a great way to bump up your own family photos a notch.
Thanks again to the Pet Photography 52 Weeks Project for the weekly prompt to get my creative juices flowing and explore and explain the ins and outs of pet photography. If you'd like to see other photographers take on "catchlights", start with the work of Kathie Ono of Ono Pet Photography in Fairhope Alabama and then continue clicking on the link at the bottom of each blog post for an around-the-world tour of some truly breathtaking pet photography.
Tracy Allard of Penny Whistle Photography is a Certified Professional Photographer with the organization Professional Photographers of America; a designation held by fewer than 2,500 photographers nationwide and a hallmark of consistency, technical skill, artistry and professionalism. Penny Whistle specializes in both natural light and studio photography providing family and pet portraits as well as corporate headshots and commercial photography in her studio located in old town Carrollton as well as out on location in Coppell and surrounding communities in Dallas – Fort Worth, Texas.