*image cropped in to show eyes closer
Catchlights are a simple yet commonly missed important aspect of a good or better portrait in baby photography or any type of photography really. This will be particularly helpful for the newer photo enthusiast at home or the portrait photographer leading towards starting a business.
Catchlights: What are they, why are they important, how to get them and a little history!
What is a Catchlight in portrait photography?
So pretty simple, a catchlight is the light reflecting in the eyes of your subject. If you can see the eyes there should probably be a catchlight. In the above baby portrait I zoomed in for you to closely take a look at the baby's eyes and the specular light reflecting in them. Catchlights give life and brightness to the eyes as well as enhance the entire portrait; without a catchlight the eyes are dark and the image is lifeless. Making sure you have light in the eyes will certainly improve your photography. Often times as you view your images or a photographer online, say you are shopping for a baby portrait photographer, you will notice something is better about one image over the previous but likely not realize exactly why, it could be that one has these catchlights and the other does not. Most of the time the only one that will actually pick out the fact that eyes contain one or do not are photographers ;)
Placement of Catchlights:
If you ever enter a print competition the catchlights also need to have specific placement, here it gets a little technical. The ideal position is said to be at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions (if you have two) and though I do agree this placement looks great mine are not always there. For instance in the baby above with the black bonnet, her catchlights are more in the 6-9 o'clock range. There can be one or two catchlights but typically the rule of thumb is you do not want more than 2. The shape of the catchlights will depend on the shape of your light source for instance if it is a square soft box then the light in the eyes will have a square shape as well. Because I use natural light with a patio door being my primary light source, catchlights in my images are often somewhat rectangular or square. Then if I am working outdoors and I use a reflector the catchlights will be round. In my opinion the shape doesn't really matter too much as long as there are some sparkly lights in those baby's eyes.
How to get Catchlights in your baby portraits:
Say you are photographing a baby sitting at the park, take notice whether there is light in the eyes or not. If there is not then rotate your baby in a circle until you see the light reflecting in the eyes - this is also in a way "finding your light". When preparing for your studio photography session or for your DIY baby portraits at home you'll need to determine what your light source is; whether it be a window, lamp, sky and then focus on having that light reflected in the eyes. If you are having a hard time lighting your subject evenly and also having that light in the eyes then you may need to use a reflector with you at the camera or slightly to the side to give light in the eyes. I use the white side of a round reflector outdoors for later evening portraits where I want nice rim light behind my subjects or in the studio where I use my patio door as a high key white background - find out more about how to use a patio door to make your DIY baby portraits look professional HERE.
Interestingly if you look closely at a portrait you can see what type of light the photographer was using whether it was studio lights with bright square shapes or natural light with the sky and clouds reflecting as in the image above. You can sometimes even see the photographer if you look very closely.
The history of Catchlights:
So catchlights also have a history if you are interested in going just a little further with me. Painters of decades ago and still today actually paint catchlights into their paintings...likely to enhance the drama and mood of the work....give it life as I like to say. Having catchlights in your photography and baby portraits is definitely nothing new, it's just an aspect of great portraits that isn't always pinpointed in the early stages of your photography learning.
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