Pet Photography Project 52, Week 4: Catchlights in Dog Photography

When pet parents visit my website, one of the first things they’re welcomed with is the opportunity to signup for my mailing list, which includes a complimentary copy of my “7 Tips for Better Pet Photos.” Tip number-one is all about creating catchlights, or the little glimmers of bright highlights reflected in your subject’s eyes, and the focus of week four’s Pet Photography Project 52 blog circle.

Catchlights are a beautiful and essential part of dog photography. These reflections enhance depth and give dimension to the eyes, essentially bringing them to life–and they’re actually quite easy to create! Follow these easy tips to help light the windows to your furry friend’s soul complete with gorgeous catchlights.

1. Look for sources of light.

You can find (or create) light in a variety of places! Large windows or the sky are beautiful sources of natural light whereas studio lighting, like soft boxes and shoot-through umbrellas, work well when you need to produce additional lighting indoors.

In the Professional Photographer Magazine article “Animal Eyes,” photographer Angela Lawson explains, “When the main light source is coming from the sky on an overcast day or in open shade the catchlights will appear as an angled crescent at the top of the eye.”

“It’s important to note that the shape of the catchlight itself can differ as well,” Lawson elaborates. “If the light is coming from a large source like a large soft box, window, or the sky, the catchlight will look like the shape of the source, much like in a human eye. However, the smaller and more round the light source, the more the catch light will look like a bright dot.”

2. Position your main light source above your dog.

Did you know that a dog’s eyes will reflect light differently than a human’s? While a correct position of your light source is a good place to start, there are some factors that you simply will not have control over. Lawson adds, “The breed and species of an animal, the angle of the eye itself, and how convex (spherical) the eye actually is are all elements that determine where the catchlights in the eye fall relative to where the light sources are placed.”

With that in mind, start by positioning your light source slightly above and in front of your dog. Next, decide which direction you’d like the light to come from; catchlights will fall differently depending on where your light source is placed. For instance, a light source placed to the side of your dog will product a more directional light. If your dog’s head is angled or tilted,  as Lawson points out, “the catchlight in the eye closest to the main light will be near the center of the eye, typically around the edge of the pupil area. The eye farther from the main light will have just a small portion of a catchlight tucked up into the upper corner of the eye near the bridge of the nose or may have no catchlight at all.”

In my first image, a continuous light diffused with a shoot-through umbrella was positioned toward the right of my camera. Notice that his left eye reflects a clear catchlight (in the shape of the umbrella) where his eye farthest from the light reveals only a small fleck on its inner corner. To me, this setup just doesn’t have enough of that desired sparkle.

Siberian retriever poses for a portrait with catchlights created by continuous lighting

Compare the above image to my second, below. For this setup, I nixed the continuous light in favor of the natural light from a window directly in front of Hunter. Do you notice the change in position and visibility of the catchlights? Do you also see a more lively quality to those big amber eyes? That’s because Hunter is facing directly toward my camera and the light filtering in through the window behind me. Coupled with the proximity of the light source to the camera, the catchlights in both eyes are reflected more towards the inner part of each eye as opposed to the more centered ones you’d see in human eyes.

Siberian retriever poses for portrait with catchlights created by natural window lighting

In photography, the eyes have it, and that is particularly true for animal’s who have some of the most expressive. A soulful gaze with beautiful catchlights goes a long way in drawing you in to an image. If you’d like more tips on photographing your own dog, be sure to visit the Bark & Gold Photography homepage and signup for my mailing list.

The Pet Photography Project 52 posts are part of a blog circle. To see what the next pawesome pet photographer is sharing for the weekly theme, “Catchlights,” visit Elaine Tweedy, I Got The Shot Photography, serving Northeastern PA and surrounding areas. Continue to click the link at the end of each post in the blog circle until you eventually find your way back here.

27 thoughts on “Pet Photography Project 52, Week 4: Catchlights in Dog Photography

  1. Thanks for this blog! I was hoping someone would write details about catchlights – I’ve made a note to read more of what Angela Lawson wrote!

    PS This math problem took me a minute… ugh. And you know what, I got the answer wrong. LOL!! Math used to be my best subject.

    1. Math is my worst subject, which is why I majored in English Studies! So, don’t feel bad about the math, especially early morning!

    1. They are, aren’t they? They’re one of my favorite things about him. They just pop so beautifully when photographed!

  2. I don’t use lights so your post has helped soooooo much! I knew about the shape of the eye making catchlights different, but I had no clue about the direction of light making such a difference. (I should probably take a course on OCF just so I can learn more about it even if I don’t use them). 😉

    1. Yes! I took an OCF course over the summer, but I haven’t gone nearly into experimenting on my own as I plan to. I just need to set aside some time to practice it more.

  3. Handsome Hunter with those sparkling, amber eyes! Great comparison – i’m always so quick to “delete” if I miss the catchlights 🙂 Beautiful image!

  4. Nicely Done! Beautiful dog. On the math subject, I kept reading your blog over and over, trying to find some sort of formula for Catchlights (LOL) Now I see that it’s just to show I am not a robot. Hahahaa!

    1. I’m not sure if there’s a mathematical approach so much as simply practicing where and how to position lights and your subject.

  5. Great examples, and those eyes of Hunters are very soulful. Thanks for the tip to Angela Lawson…..I’ll make a note to read more from her, and your website too.

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