The Art of Catchlights and Those Sparkly Eyes! | Louisville Family Photographer

Let’s talk Catch lights!  Or Catchlights, as the photography community has coined.  😉  What are catchlights?  Well, catchlights are those beautiful little blobs of light that you find in a subject’s eyes.  Catchlights make the eyes sparkle and they give life to your subject.  They are often the difference between a beautiful sharp image and a dull lifeless one.  In order to have great catchlights, you have to have great light, in fact, they are a great way for a beginner to hunt for light.  Try it, talk a stroll around your house with another person and turn them in various directions in the room and around the house.  You will see how the light moves around their eyes.  There is a catch though.  ha ha, see what I did there?!  😉  Your iris, the colored part of your eye around the pupil which controls the amount of light that can enter your retina, is a far more sensitive and sophisticated tool than your camera.  You can focus on a subject and discern detail even in very low lighting conditions.  Your camera isn’t quite so advanced.  You have options in low light conditions.  You can lower your shutter speed, open your lens and bump your iso but only so far.  You could also try adding flash on or off camera.  The thing is, unless you’re setting up a studio session, it can be quite annoying to go running for an extra light source.  It’s far easier to understand how to find the available light around you.  Obviously, if it’s night time, the available light will be limited!  🙂   So seeing just a little light in your subjects eyes, probably won’t give you the results you’re looking for.  You want to see the light in their eyes that you want to see in your image.  Trust me on this one, you don’t want to try to fake this!  Find the light and your eyes will shine, shine, shine without any photoshop action to add sparkle and look far more natural.  In the Louisville Kentucky area, we’re lucky; we get lots of light for most of the year.  Even in the dreary winter, you can find beautiful natural light, but you do have to know where to look!

If you take a look at the images below you will see the difference between great light and terrible light.  All of these images were processed identically and minimally.   The biggest difference in these images is the amount of available light in the room.  For the top image and the bottom left, I had my subject, my son, positioned near a sliding glass door.  It was located camera left.  In the bottom right however, I moved him back about 8 feet and turned him.

It’s easy to see the difference that catchlights make in these images.  That bottom right image looks flat and lifeless compared to the other two.

If we zoom into each of these images you can see even more issues.  Both images are sharp, but the hallway image isn’t anywhere near as tack sharp as the one on the left.  There is noise in the image on the right because I had to bump my iso way up to handle the darker spot.  Your camera requires light to focus and interpret data to create the combination of pixels we call an image.  The more light that you have the more flexibility you have to provide your camera’s sensor with correct exposure settings to interpret the data.    You will find that low light also creates focusing problems because your camera’s focus system (assuming you’re using the camera’s focus system) looks for areas of contrast to lock focus.  In low light, it’s harder to find a point of contrast to lock on.

These images were processed with the following, identical steps.  Subtle skin smoothing, slight warming, sharpening for web.  No eye sparkle actions or tricks.  The camera settings were very different of course and the second low light location is not ideal without additional light.  If you’re like me though, you’d rather just move to a different spot in the house than pull out external lights, at least for fun little snapshots like this!  This is especially helpful when photographing children as you can find the spots with the great light and then position yourself for your ideal images and let the child come to you.

So when you’re on a light hunt, watch for those fantastic catchlights to nail those crisp gorgeous images!  Once you’ve learned how to find the light you can use it in all of your images.  Not only will you understand how to find it, but watching how light bounces in the eyes will give you a better understanding of directional light which is imperative for everything,  newborns, children, family outdoor work, studio work, you name it, this skill is that “ah ha” moment that will make all the difference!


Painting With Sunlight Photography specializes in Warm, Simple, Beautiful Maternity, Newborn, Child and Family Photography in the Louisville, Kentucky area. Feel free to look around while you’re hear, I’d love to hear from you when you’re ready for more information or to schedule your session.

  • Great explanation! Love the examples – and your model is pretty cute, too! 🙂

  • Great tips! What a difference lighting makes!

  • Love catch lights! So expressive…

  • Great tips and Great examples! Oh how I love light!

  • Love the examples! 🙂

  • Vanessa Byrd


  • Great tip and lovely examples to explain it!

  • What a great article on catch lights. I don’t think I have ever seen one this informative. Thank you for sharing. 🙂