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James Paterson reveals how to create custom-shaped catchlights
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.