Project 52: Catchlights

This week, we are focusing on catchlights.



Catchlights are the “sparkle” you often see in a person’s (or animal’s) eyes in a photo. They really bring a photo to life, and eyes without catchlights just look dull. That’s especially true for our animal friends, whose eyes are different than yours or mine.

With humans, the iris of the eye is relatively small. You can usually see the sclera (“the white of the eye”) when someone has their eye open.

In the case of most animals, the iris makes up the majority of the visible eye. Because of this, their eyes tend to look dark, dull, and lifeless unless some light is added.

This can be ambient light–either sunlight or artificial lighting–in which case it’s best to have the animal look toward the light when the photo is taken. If you are using flash, then you are almost assured of having catchlights.

How to Make Catchlights

Sometimes you just don’t get a catchlight in your subject’s eye. Either the lighting just didn’t cooperate, or you have to replace the eye in the photo with one from another photo, and that one didn’t have a catchlight.

Fortunately, catchlights are relatively easy to “manufacture” in either Lightroom or Photoshop.

(Oh, and of course, these methods work for catchlights in photos of people as well.)

Enchancing Catchlights in Lightroom

Lightroom makes it very easy to enhance or even create a catchlight.

The first option is the easy, but more expensive option. There are plenty of places on line that will sell you an adjustment brush preset for either catchlight creation or catchlight enhancement.

The second option is the cheaper, but slightly more difficult option. “Roll your own” preset for catchlights.

To do this, you need to create a custom adjustment brush. I recommend settings of Exposure +4 and Saturation -100.

My settings for a catchlight brush in Lightroom.
My settings for a catchlight brush in Lightroom.

(Click to see larger image)

You should then save this as an adjustment brush preset so you can pull it up anytime you need to make or enhance catchlights.

Creating a new adjustment brush preset in Lightroom
Save your settings to create a new adjustment brush preset.

Click to Enlarge.

This will probably be too strong in many cases. What do you do then? Click on the little triangle to the right of the effect name. This will then give you a slider to adjust the strength of the effect. So you can create your catchlights, then use the slider to adjust them to your preferred strength.

As I pointed out to Sandra McCarthy in the comments, sometimes playing with the sliders individually will work better than using this “strength slider” (as I call it) since you can “mix” different ratios of the components by doing it manually.

Alter the strength of the adjustment
Use this slider to adjust the strength of the adjustment

Here’s a video from Laura Shoe where she goes over this. Note she has an earlier version of Lightroom that doesn’t have the strength slider.

Make or Enhance Catchlights in Photoshop

Once you have made your own catchlight brush, it’s easy to add them in Lightroom.

But if you’re like me, I like to do my basic edits in Lightroom then go into Photoshop for any cloning, healing, or heavy pixel adjustments. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to add catchlights in Photoshop.

All you have to do is create a blank layer over the pixel layer containing the eye(s) to which you want to add the catchlights. Using a brush with a hardness of 0%, paint in a white catchlight.

Creating a catchlight in Photoshop
“Painting” on a catchlight in Photoshop

You can then move the catchlight layer or reduce its opacity as needed.

If you have any questions about either technique, leave them in the comments below and I’ll answer them if I can!

So try out these methods of making catchlights the next time you need to add some to your photos. You can even leave them in the comments and let me see how they turn out!

In the meantime, check out all the other great examples of catchlights from other great photographers who are in the Project. Next up is Darlene with Pant the Town Photography serving MA and NH.



I love how you included some lightroom instruction.

Love the explanations of how to create catch lights in post. This is definitely a post to bookmark.

The main image is brilliant! Nice touch with the tutorial too 🙂

Fun tips! I find that I can more easily add a little extra catchlight in Photoshop when its real life catchlight isn’t that impressive.

Great tutorial. I just learned about that strength or amount slider for adjustments recently. Really great feature when you have multiple settings in a single adjustment. I can’t believe I had been using LR for so long without knowing about that!

I found that tutorial and tried it on one of my images, I didn’t like the result. I’m going to need to try it again.

Assuming you used the Lightroom method, you may need to adjust the amount of the adjustments manually instead of using the strength slider.

My understanding is that slider adjusts the individual adjustment sliders by the same percentage. For example, it will adjust both the exposure and saturation by 25%. Sometimes one needs more adjusting than the other.

Love your tutorial, Tim! Thanks for sharing all that info! Love those amber eyes with the catchlights – great post!

Very comprehensive blog and great tutorial.

Your LR tip is new to me! I would love to know how you got the screenshot of LR that you used here?

I used a free utility called Screenshot Captor. While third-party utilities have a few extra features, both Windows and Mac have built-in screenshot utilities. On Windows, you want to search for "snipping tool," and on Mac, search for "grab."

Thanks Tim! I haven’t tried that in Lightroom, so I’ll take a look and give it a go. Cheers!

What a great take on Catchlights.

Very nice tutorial!

Thank you so much for the tutorial! I have always just trashed those shots….

LOVE your main image for this post!

Those puppy eyes…<3!!!!!! Thanks for the great tutorial about adding them in post. I forgot about the strength slider when using presets.

That strength slider is easy to forget about. I think Adobe should label it or make it appear all the time, not just when you click on that triangle.

This is brilliant! I didn’t know how to do that in LR. Thank you so the lesson. I love the close up.

Great tutorial and beautiful full-frame image of the dog – gorgeous eyes!

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