This is my new favourite photography “tip” thanks to Angie Baxter, very brilliant family photographer and all-round lovely person. If you are remotely interested in children’s/portrait photography, I can’t recommend her workshop “Love your Camera” highly enough.
One of the concepts that resonated most with me is the theory of catchlight – when you get a lovely reflection in your subject’s eyes, the light reflecting off a light source, either ambient or directional. In professional photography it most often uses a flash as the light source, but it is very different to red-eye, which is undesirable.
Angie does not use flash photography and neither do I. It means my results in dim light are hit and miss, but them’s the breaks. I prefer the softness of natural lighting – always have, always will. Angie’s course was brilliant for this very reason. I was struggling to get consistently good results using natural light, particularly indoors as, truly, I had no idea about how to actually use the feted Canon 5D in manual mode. I understood the theory behind ISO, shutter speed and f-stops, but I didn’t know how to use them on the camera I used. Angie popped into my life (thanks for the tip, Jess and Louisa!) and voila! $280 later I have the confidence to take my portraiture to the next level. Hold onto your seats, people. There’s a new camera cowgirl in town.
ANYWAY, back to catchlight technicals. Take this photo of my grubby child (above). I shot this at about 6.30pm in our backyard, with the light behind her. The reflection off her eyes is from the ambient light coming off the bricks beneath her. It gives her eyes depth and a mesmerising quality (ahem, I may be slightly biased). Apparently a catchlight at 10 o’clock is most desirable. This one is more an 8 o’clock, but I was happy with the result considering my child doesn’t sit still long enough for me to blink let alone position her for the best catchlight. Practice. Practice. PRACTICE.
Armed with knowledge of catchlights and a rather massive back-log of photos (48,000 to be precise), I went through them and noticed that the photos I most loved of my kids had catchlights. I was discriminating based on this concept and I didn’t even know it. In contrast, take the below photo. In many ways it’s a decent enough photo – the depth of field, focus and composition are all there, but [while wiping away self-congratulatory residue from my butt] there is no (or little) catchlight so her eyes look dull. Doesn’t mean it’s a shit photo but without light in her otherwise soulful eyes, there’s nothing to really grab hold of in terms of her personality and spirit. Her eyes are in shadow – if I’d moved her a little more towards the ambient light of the scene, I think the photo would have popped.
I’m still learning how to take beautiful photos of people. I’m not an expert, but I’m a sponge for this shit. I am also passionate about photography and sharing gems like this with you (thanks Angie. Again.)
Please feel free to leave a comment about your experience with catchlights, what worked, what didn’t. Do you have a foolproof method of taking photos with beautiful catchlights?