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.
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.