At a recent seminar (the Hobby/McNally Flash Bus Tour) the subject of the catch light intruded. Commentary from the sage teachers was to minimize its importance. A quick read of the linked Wikipedia article above will give you the theory and practice of catch lights.
I belong to several photographic societies. Part of the fun of being a member is competing in monthly salons where you are berated for your lack of certain photographic aesthetics and cheered for including as many as possible. One common comment is the inclusion or lack of a catch light in the subject’s eye. It can literally make or break a photo – given the right judge. If the catch light is from a natural source, add a point or two.
In the eye retouching example shown above, the catch light is quite prominent, having been enhanced in post production. This leads to another discussion: artificial catch lights. Artificial catch lights come in two basic forms:
- Added at capture time with the use of a specific light or light modifier. (Nature photographers often use flash to pop catch lights into an otherwise dull-eyed creature) I just downloaded an iPad app that allows you to put heart or star shaped catch lights into peoples eyes. Catch lights are a bid deal.
- Added in post processing as a retouch. It is common to see images where the natural studio lighting catch lights have been ‘painted’ out and replaced with a more aesthetically pleasing light. Catch lights are a bid deal.
I prepared three images of a Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog for your consideration below.
The top image is the ring flash-produced catch light created at the time of exposure. The middle image is the no-catch light retouched version. The last image is the put-the-sky-reflection-catch-light retouch. The frog hasn’t changed-only the catch light has.
Which do you prefer? Why?
Back to the Flash Bus Tour comments from the first paragraph. I think it was David Hobby on stage when the catch light discussion came up. Ironic that a flash guru, (flash being a major producer of both intended and unintended catch lights) that posed the question. “Is a catch light necessary for a good photo?”
When you create catch lights in the lab is it so necessary to worry about them in the field?
I am still mulling.
Rikk Flohr © 2011