Have a heart

James Pater­son re­veals how to cre­ate cus­tom-shaped catch­lights

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Give fam­ily pho­tos ex­tra charm with spe­cially-shaped catch lights

It’s of­ten said that eyes are the most im­por­tant fea­ture in a por­trait. When­ever you’re shoot­ing por­traits, you should al­ways be look­ing for ways to draw at­ten­tion to them. One way we can do this is by mak­ing sure they have catch­lights. These are the tiny re­flected high­lights we see in a per­son’s eyes. They may be small, but these lit­tle sparks draw the viewer in and bring the sub­ject to life, which is why you’ll see catch­lights in al­most ev­ery good por­trait.

Catch­lights are, of course, cre­ated by the sur­round­ing lights. This could be any­thing that emits or re­flects strong light, like a lamp, a win­dow, a flash, or the sun.

If you want to learn about por­trait light­ing, catch­lights can tell you a lot. Look closely at any good por­trait and from the po­si­tion and shape of the catch­lights you’ll be able to de­ter­mine the num­ber of lights used, their shape, where they were placed, and whether they were large or small. Most of the time catch­lights will be square or cir­cu­lar, as these are the shapes of most light sources, but you can make much more creative catch­lights if you like, sim­ply by chang­ing the shape of the light source.

Here’s a fun project to try out at home. Use fairy lights to shape your catch­lights. (Fun fact: this tech­nique was used to cre­ate the mul­ti­ple catch­lights in Gal­adriel’s eyes in the Lord­oftheRings films.) All you need are a few LED fairy lights, an old wire coathanger, and a macro or zoom lens that al­lows for close-ups. By shap­ing the wire and at­tach­ing your LED lights you can cus­tomise the re­flected specks of light to your own de­sign, and add ex­tra sparkle to your por­traits.

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