Okay, all you photographers who are just starting out or want to get into portrait photography, for the love of God, read this post. It’s a rant about portraiture basics: ensuring you’ve got a catch light in the eyes.
A while ago, my wife booked a family portrait session for us. It was a local photographer who had been doing these outdoor portraits for a couple of years and I was glad to give some business to a new photographer instead of a mall-based portrait mill. Holy shit, we should have gone to the mall!
At first, I was pretty happy about the shoot but she kept pushing our son to take a few more pictures and it was well past his nap-time. Of course, the more she tried to get him to pose, the crankier he got. So, my first thought was that someone who claims to specialize in family and children portraiture should be able to see the signs of fatigue in a child. Anyway, that’s still not my complaint. Nor is the soft focus that makes the whole print look like her auto-focus was off.
Missing the catch light
She was using a speed light to fill in the light but she managed to not get a catch light in anyone’s eyes.
Take a look at Luke’s picture:
First, in all fairness, don’t judge the quality of the print from this. My scanner isn’t working so I took a quick shot with my iPhone. It’s no scan but it does a fine job showing the problem when you miss getting the catch light.
So, look at Luke’s eyes. Without that little spot of light, his eyes are devoid of life and energy and the whole scene just looks creepy.
Folks, this is portraiture 101. I would never show a client an image where this was missing or, if it was, there is an aesthetic value to the missing catch light. This certainly isn’t the case in this picture. Hell, a 10 second adjustment in Photoshop can add the light into the eyes.
In this case, it was an amateurish mistake.
What a catch light does
Take a look at this image from a shoot I did a few years ago:
In it, you can clearly see the difference that the catch light makes. It’s subtle, I’ll grant you that, but it is important. His eyes have life in them and the whole image has energy. A catch light doesn’t have to be really strong or apparent, but it really does need to be there.
So, there you have it. If you are a photographer who wants to get into portraiture, don’t make such a rookie mistake, especially if you’re going to proclaim this as your expertise. If you are someone who is hiring a photographer, look for this kind of thing in their portfolio before you hire them.
Thanks for listening!