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Tips & Tricks

A Simple Way to Find Catchlights Using an Everyday Object

By Lonnie Thurston on May 22nd 2014

One of my greatest struggles as a portrait photographer was trying to figure out lighting. I fought with it constantly. I have had a tendency to see a scene and get attached to what is going to be behind my subject. I paid attention to the lighting in the scene to make sure there is nothing distracting going on, but that was not good enough. I wanted my subject to come to life and had to learn to find the catchlight first and worry about the background second.

Frank “The Bald Photographer” Donnino has been capturing people’s special moments for over three decades. In spite of the efforts of the photographers he had studied under, he had shared my struggle with grasping the concept of “finding the light.” A good photographer will always look for ways to get better at what they do. Donnino set out this year to make sure he was able to see light well. He came up with a simple way to find the catchlight using an everyday object. A black marble.

Finding Catchlights

A catchlight is the highlight of a light source reflected off the surface of the eye. A catchlight adds depth and dimension to the eye and brings a portrait to life. To find a catchlight you can have your subject slowly turn around and watch for it in their eyes. This can be tedious if you are not proficient at it. It is much easier to use a marble to find the catchlight.

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How It’s Done

You place the marble in your hand and turn it towards your available light source. At this point you will be able to see the catchlight on the marble just like you would on the eye of your subject. If you turn the marble away from the light, the catchlight will disappear.

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To find your optimal lighting zone, turn the marble until the catchlight is at the 2 or 10 o’clock position.

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[Rewind: Illuminating The Face]

Getting your lighting right is extremely important if you want your images to stand out. This is a great idea that can help you figure out your lighting and it is something anyone can do at minimal cost. Donnino uses a 25 mm black marble, but I believe a dark marble of any color would work just as well. I would not recommend using one smaller than that.

Using a marble to find the catchlight is an easy way for me to find the light and bring my subject to life.

[ via Pop Photo]

Terms: #Catchlight

Lonnie Thurston is a wedding, nature, and sports photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area.

Q&A Discussions

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  3. Eric

    I can’t understand this article at all. What are you doing with the marble? Why aren’t you just moving the model or light?

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    • alexis

      They’re saying instead of moving the model or lighting around, hold a marble up as your “eye” and examine where you will find the best catch light and position your model there.

      Much easier than asking someone to move or turn numerous times or move lighting around esp if your only source of light is natural light. Then you can make fine adjustments after.

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