How to Capture Great Catchlights Indoors

I was reading my blog & photography buddy Rose's Daughter post about her son recently. She mentioned the difficulty of capturing catchlights in her son Pookah's eyes. She inspired me to write a simple tutorial for all the moms out there experiencing the same issue. The definition of a catch light according to Digital Photography School is:

A “catchlight’ is simply the highlight of a light source reflected off the surface of the eye. This highlight adds depth and dimension to the eye, and gives the eyes life in a portrait or snapshot.

As you have heard me mention countless times we live in a tiny six hundred square foot dorm. There is one window in the kitchen and two in the living room. It is *dark*. I haven't bought an external flash yet (I think I want to though) and my camera's ISO capabilities aren't too extreme (past 1600 and the grain and noise are crazy).

I have learned how to work around the darkness and usually manage to capture great light in my kids' eyes. It doesn't hurt that they have giant eyeballs either : )

Here are some tips that will help you bring out beautiful catchlight's in your child's eyes:

  • Manage your camera settings.
    • Depending on the amount of light in your house you will probably set your camera's ISO to somewhere between 400-800.
    • Make sure your shutter speed is as high as you can get it. Use a high aperture (low f stop) but keep in mind that your area of focus decreases as you increase your aperture. Try shooting in at least 3.0-4.0 if you are a newbie.
    •  If you aren't yet shooting in manual try shooting in shutter or aperture priority. Avoid AUTO if you can.
  • Either set a custom white balance using a gray card or if you have no idea what I am talking about use the AWB (auto white balance) function. It works well in this instance.
  • Sit with your back to an uncovered window.
  • Get down low. Try eye level with your child or a little lower.
  • Attract your child's attention.
  • Face your child towards the window. If your child is still crawling funny sounds work well. If you're dealing with a toddler bribes (I used a few tiny marshmallows for the shots below) or a toy work.
    • I sometimes set my son up with a fun activity at his table right by the window. Works like a charm.
  • I find that cloudy days between 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. work best since the clouds provide a nice filter yet allow bright even light to stream through windows.

Here is my example:





See the difference? I took the pictures on two different days since, as you can tell in the second picture, Preston was getting annoyed : )

The pictures were only clean edited, web resized, and web sharpened. I didn't sharpen the eyes.

Try it out and let me know what you think. 

This trick always works for me...unless I run out of marshmallows.