Technique: Catchlights

One way to ensure that your strobes look like natural light is to pay attention to your catchlights.

Light should always fall on your subject from above, from behind (backlight), or from the side.

It should never come from below.

A good way to make sure your light is coming from the right direction is to notice where your catchlight is.

A catchlight is the gleam of light reflected in your subject’s eyes.

If your catchlight is in the top half of the eye, then your light is good. If it’s in the bottom half of the eye, the light is unflattering and you should move your subject.

These rules apply when working with window light or studio strobes. Look for the light in the eyes! It’s the easiest way to make sure your subject is well lit!

In the above example, the color image was taken on my Contax 645 with Fuji 400h using window light. The black and white image was taken on my Contax 645 with Pan F using my 50×50 Westcott Apollo softbox.

Notice that the catch lights are very similar on both images.

You should also know that the type of light modifier you use will affect the look of your catchlight. Round modifiers (like umbrellas) produce round catchlights. Square modifiers (like softboxes and OctoDomes) produce square catchlights.

I personally prefer the look of a square catchlight as I like my strobe images to look as much like natural light as possible. To me, the square catchlight I get when using my softbox looks like what I get when using window light.

         Square catchlight from a softbox.          Round catchlight from an umbrella.                           

If you are working with a sleeping baby and therefore unable to see their eyes, look for a slight shadow under the nose.

If you have a shadow under the nose, your light is in the right spot!

Another trick I use  to insure my light is in the right spot for a flattering photo is to make sure the top of my subjects head is always pointing toward the light.

If my light source is a window, then the top of  my subject’s head points toward the window. If my light source is a softbox, then the top of my subject’s head points toward the softbox.

Note the top of the baby’s head is pointing toward the softbox.

In the image on the left, my light is high on the stand, shining down, subject's head toward the light.  In the image on the right, my light is placed at the end of the bed, my subject's head toward the light.

 

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