The proverb states, "the eyes are the windows to the soul". While that may be true, as a photographer, if the eyes aren't in focus then you may as well toss an image into the bin. We automatically look at the eyes first when presented an image to view, so it's important that they be in sharp focus and have some "light" in them, also known as "catchlights". It's that spark of light in the eyes that engages the viewer and holds them in the image. So whether in my Carrollton studio, or on location somewhere in the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex, the eyes have to have it!
(click on any image to view full screen)
Dogs in the Studio
Max is a Xoloitzcuintli, yes that's a mouthful, so you may know the breed better as the "Mexican hairless dog". His humans wanted a black-on-black low key look so his eyes had to be perfect because if not, there wasn't anything else in the image to help draw your attention to. For animals, I personally like the catchlights high in the eyes as pictured here. Your gaze may wander around the image, but I guarantee you can't help but return to his eyes over and over again.
Just as with horses as described below, I often use the open sky to reflect light back into a dog's eyes when outside. I like the natural, uneven catchlight that is produced and embrace the imperfect. This was photographed in the beautiful early-morning "golden hour" (so named for the gorgeous golden light found in the period of time just after sunrise) in a park in Coppell.
Cats in the Studio
I love the minimalist "tone on tone" color palette, so with a gray kitten on a gray background, it's important to have great focus on his eyes and well-placed catchlights to help him pop off the print or out of the screen.
Horses in the Barn
You can achieve eye-catching (see what I did there?) catchlights in eyes outside of the studio too. The sky provides great lighting. I positioned this horse just inside the doors of it's barn in Denton so he was out of the direct sunlight but the white gravel driveway reflected the blue sky back into his eyes - as well as my own reflection if you look closely!
Before and After Eye Edit
Here's a close up of a pup that came into the studio this week. Even with great focus on the eyes and well placed catchlights, there's still work to be done. As you can see in the "As Photographed" image, there are actually two catchlights showing; the one from the main light and a second from the fill light (a smaller light position to fill in the shadows below the chin). I personally find the second catchlight distracting, so I remove it and then "pumped up the volume" of the eye color by lightening the iris a bit and sharpening the area in post processing, also known as retouching or developing.
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 pet, couple & engagement, family and high school senior portraits as well as corporate headshots and commercial photography services in her studio located in historic downtown Carrollton as well as on location in Coppell, Grapevine, Southlake, Flower Mound and surrounding communities in Dallas – Fort Worth, Texas.