Catch-Lights and Lighting Patterns

Published on July 12, 2017

Catch-lights are the glints or reflections in the eyes from each light source.  They are little hints about the way a portrait is lit!  And are directly related to the Portrait Lighting Pattern.

Catch light web1

I think they are so much fun!  I watch peoples catch-lights ALL the time.  I am constantly evaluating lighting and looking at the catch-lights in people’s eyes.


So Catch-lights are very important, if a portrait does not have a catch light… the subject can appear life-less.  Note the difference in the lighting patterns and the catch lights below.

  •  light height02 web  light height01 web

Outdoor, natural light Catch-lights… Notice the light mimics the open sky, and not a shape of a softbox or a dot for a flash.

outdoor catchlights web

In the sample below, note the strobe catch-light (for the main light…  is the round brighter catch-light) combined with natural light (for the fill).

catchlight strobe plus natural light

Lighting Patterns

Lighting patterns are how light and shadow fall across your subject’s face. The patterns that we will talk about most are

  • Short Lighting – Photographing into the shadow side of the face.

shirt light

  • Broad Lighting- Photographing into the highlight side of the face.

Broad Light

  • Split Lighting – Photographing straight on the face- one side of the face is in shadow, the other is in highlight.

Split light

  • Flat Lighting – Both sides of the face are the same exposure. (There is not a highlight and a shadow side of the face.)

Flat light

Our preferred lighting pattern is most always short light lighting.

For most portraits, to have a short lighting pattern (Camera pointed to the shadow side of the face), with catch-lights in the 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock position in the eye.  This creates a nice lighting pattern where the nose shadow drops away and down from the nose.

For more information on lighting patterns, see the Shared Google Drive Training Folder

And click on the SRP Photog Apprentice 101 Training.