A Spark in the Eye

Catch the light in your subject’s eyes to bring the photo to life

You have probably taken portraits at some point. Whether it was for a family reunion, a birthday party or the arrival of a new baby, you were the one responsible for capturing all of those people in photographs.

Not many everyday portraits are all that flattering. A lot of this has to do with light, the camera you are using and the conditions you are taking photos in. If you are taking snapshots of your child’s birthday party indoors, don’t expect the photos to look amazing. The flash on your camera will wash everything out, and is not the most flattering light to use for portraits.

A less obvious but equally significant element missing from many portraits is a spark in the subject’s eyes. This is usually referred to as a catchlight.

How to Catch a Catchlight

It’s not that hard to photograph the reflection of a light in your subject’s eyes, but it does require some cooperation from your subject. Here are a couple of easy steps you can follow to ensure that there is just a hint of light in the eyes:

  • Make sure the eyes are open โ€” this may seem obvious, but even if your subject is looking down or away from the camera, their eyelids can shade their eyes enough so that no light is apparent. Get them to look straight at you and open wide!
  • Use a flash, even when outside โ€” this technique is called “fill flash” and serves other purposes as well. If your subject is outside in daylight, there will probably not be much of any light to reflect in their eyes. If you use your camera’s flash, this will serve as the catchlight.
  • Use a reflector โ€” if you are so inclined you can go out and purchase a photography reflector. If you don’t want to spend the money, anything that reflects light will work: the sunshade on your car or a piece of metal or aluminum foil. Adjust the reflector until you can see the catchlight in the eyes of your subject. Then start taking photos.

The End Result

I hope that you will be able to see the difference between portraits without a catchlight and ones that have it. The small spark in the eyes really brings vitality to the image. An otherwise standard portrait comes to life.

It’s something small and simple that can make a huge difference in your portrait photography.

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