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.

Short URL:

  1. love this, thank you!!! I have this fab camera and I’m not letting it reach it’s potential. I need more tutes like this in my life :)
    danielle recently posted… wise words: right or kind?My Profile

  2. Thank you for this! I keep trying to get the catchlights on my kids but I never get it right. Plus the rugrats never stay still for longer than 1/100 of a second.
    Nicole recently posted… I swearMy Profile

  3. Super helpful!!! Thanks!

  4. I’m going to have to start bribing Pookah. That child barely will sit still for me anymore!
    Rose’s Daughter recently posted… Beyond ExhaustedMy Profile