Hudson Valley Photographer: Reading catch lights

One of the most invaluable lessons I’ve learned is how to read catch lights. Catch lights are the reflections of light or bright objects in a subject’s eyes. Learning how to read these will help you to understand lighting, at least it has for me!

The eyes can tell you a lot about what angle a light is, what position some of your reflectors are in and where your subject is situated as per your light source. Knowing all of these can help when you are trying to get the light right by trying to recreate those same type of catch lights in your subject.

When I was schooling at NYIP they taught lighting by reading shadows which is another amazing way to learn light positions but couple that with catch light reading and you will be a lot further in your study!

Catch lights reflect and shape differently depending on the light source you are using:

-Pop up flash will most often leave a pinpoint dot in the eyes and leave little contrast in the eye because of the direct flash.

-Most studio lighting or artificial lights create a very distinct square, circle or rectangular white light shape.

-Outdoor light usually spreads across the eye depending on how much sky is reflecting into your subject.

-Bounced light shows a couple of different ways depending on what angle you are bouncing and what types of natural reflectors are being utilized.

I want to give you an inside look into these scenarios so that it will help you identify when you venture out on your own:

Here is your typical snap shot with pop-up flash up close. Notice the pinpoint dots caused by the pop up (side note: this was done while I was studying at NYIP and vacationing with my parents. I wanted to practice using my flash outdoors…it’s not my best but I do not have many pop-up flash pictures in my portfolio these days). It’s not too bad and a keeper for the mama and the papa and the grandma and the grandpa…

Here is an all studio shot. I used a soft box to the right of me and my speed light angled to the corner of the ceiling, and you can see exactly that in his eyes.And the actual shot (was converted in a higher contrast black and white in photoshop).

This next one was outdoor natural light. I positioned her in open shade and a nice patch of open sky was behind me which you can see both me and the sky in her eyes. Her house was to the side and was lightly colored acting as a natural reflector which gave a little more light on my subject from the open light of the sky…Natural reflectors are great and need to be used and found as much as possible (I’ll try to post about natural reflectors later on).And the resulting shot (she’s beautiful, isn’t she?).

My last one is bounced flash using my speed light. Since I was in a smaller room I positioned my light so that it flashed behind me and angled to the ceiling (I’m sure there are some gasps…flash should be directed toward your subject, right? Wrong! This is where natural reflectors become amazingly useful! The bounce or splash that is created actually illuminates your reflectors and act as a giant soft box of light, yay!!). Bounced light does reflect in your subject’s eyes as noticed in mine…what you can see is both the bounced flash (that glob of white on the bottom) and the ceiling light that was on during our session (yellowish one on top), and the smaller light is the light bouncing off of the mirror in the room.And the fun result! (I had a blast with this session and will post about it soon!!)

Now, I challenge you: I’ve set up a couple of pictures for you to look at and figure out. I want you to try to see if they were done with artificial or natural light. Once you come up with a hypothesis scroll down a little, I put the answers for you. There is one last bonus one after the answers (with out catch lights to see if you can tell if it were artificial lighting or natural…answer is at bottom of image).

Hope this was fun and helped you in some way. I am a visual learner and I know having stuff like this available to me has helped me tons! 😀

Photography by Carlise is a Hudson Valley NY photographer available for maternity, newborn, family, event, senior, engagement, weddings and couple photography and portraiture.

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