Boost your portrait photos with unique star-shaped catchlights

 Shooting Tutorial.
Shooting Tutorial.

When taking a portrait, it is important to include catchlights. These are reflections of the light source in the subject’s eyes that can add life, depth and a captivating sparkle. They make your subject look more vibrant and engaging and can turn a mundane portrait into an eye-catching one.

The shape and intensity of catchlights can vary depending on the shooting environment. When shooting in a studio, the most effective way to create catchlights is to direct a light source towards your subject. This can be easily accomplished using a softbox or beauty dish to diffuse light for flattering effects. Similarly, when shooting outdoors, the sun creates natural catchlights, even when the weather is overcast. In fact, on overcast days, the clouds act as a natural softbox, creating gentle reflections in your subject’s eyes.

Catchlights are essentially light reflections and so they offer limitless potential to experiment and create unique light shapes to complement the style of your portrait. To create the outline, we need to attach a string of lights to a piece of wood or thick cardboard you may have lying around the home. Stick the lights down with either nails or tape into the desired shape. It’s a quick and cost-effective way of adding a special touch that makes your portraits stand out.

Before and after

Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial

Shooting steps

1. Set the scene

Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial

Choose a dark or dimly lit room with minimal ambient light as this will help make the reflections stand out more. Gently place the lights in front of your model, ensuring they are not too bright and are evenly distributed.

2. Stay steady

Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial

When working in low-light conditions, place your camera on a tripod to keep it steady. This allows you to use longer shutter speeds, where more light can enter the sensor, and also prevents camera shake, resulting in sharp and well-exposed images.

3. Shoot in Manual

Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial

Change to M mode to manually adjust the exposure settings. Use a slow shutter speed, between 1/4 to 1 sec, to allow the light reflection to stand out. Select an open aperture of about f/6.3 to enhance the light and create beautiful bokeh.

4. Select ISO value

Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial

(Image credit: Natalia Zmyslowska)

Keep your ISO setting as low as possible to reduce the amount of visible noise in the darker parts of the image. However, if the final result shows significant noise, you can correct it in post-production with the Denoise function in Lightroom.

5. Set the focus

Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial

To ensure both the eye and catchlight are sharp, go into your camera menu to bring up the available focus options. The eye-tracking feature on Canon cameras, for example, works well and is a great way of ensuring that the subject’s eyes are in focus.

6. Choose focal length

Shooting Tutorial
Shooting Tutorial

Working with a versatile lens, such as the Canon 24-240mm f/4-6.3 telephoto lens, allows you to rearrange the frame with ease. Work with long focal lengths to achieve an aesthetically pleasing compressed perspective.


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