What about catchlights

We’ve all heard about catchlights in human eyes being a goal when doing portraits; it makes the eyes more appealing and the person to look less like an inanimate doll (I read that somewhere just can’t recall where.)  But recently I watched a YouTube video where a bird photographer mentioned them being good for birds.

Who knew!

Anyway… the bird photographer whose video I was watching (and again I cannot remember who it was; still trying to find it again) stated that catchlights in birds eyes makes them look more alive than not having them.  He suggested that when photographing birds, if at all possible, shoot with your shadow facing your subject which would give better light.

That might be a bit hard for those birds in trees or flying a certain way but let’s continue.

So when I went to practice tracking the flying black ringed gulls here I gave his suggestion a try.  Easy to do with these birds as they are so used to humans and are large enough to even use animal eye auto focus if your camera has it.  Here are my results with the exact same bird in the same spot; just waited for it to turn it’s head slightly.

Without catchlight in eye

With catchlight in eye

I will admit the second image makes the bird look more “alive” but a side effect I came upon was a highlights issue.  As this juvenile gull (when they are adults they assume the white head and body with black tipped grey wings – something else new I learned while on my birding adventures) turned where the light hit directly on the whitish part of his head there was some blowing out of the highlights that I had to recover in post.  So if you were to try this technique with a white or very light colored bird you could experience the same.

So what do you think? Do catchlights make a difference in the images for you?  Have you experienced shooting this way?  Leave a comment below.



About imagesbytdashfield

Fine art photographer who loves to see and capture the amazing things in this world. Owner of Images by TDashfield photography. www.imagesbytdashfield.com
This entry was posted in life, Nature, Ohio, Photo Techniques, photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What about catchlights

  1. Deb says:

    Very interesting Teri…
    When I zoom into the head, the second birds eyes details are definitely very attractive. If the dynamic range is very different in this case, then I am thinking that a close headshot would benefit from this, while a far short with exposure set to the body colour.
    Or maybe I am not right at all, a close headshot might anyway put better focus on the eye, so no special consideration might be needed?
    Also, is getting the catch light about placement direction of camera only, or some kind of spot mode for exposure and focus?
    Just thinking 🙂

    • With catchlights it’s a combo of the light source, it’s direction and the direction of the eyes. With birds? As I am still learning about bird photography I would imagine it’s somewhat the same concept except you can’t tell the bird to turn its head a bit to the left – lol. In that case it would be the direction of the light source and where you position your shot.

  2. Lavinia Ross says:

    I like the more life-like eyes, but see the highlight problem here.

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