The eyes might be the windows to the soul for most people, but they also serve as windows to lighting setups for astute portrait photographers. Catchlights reflected in the eyes of a sitter can reveal the size, shape, and placement of light sources in a photo. More importantly, catchlights provide a means of drawing attention to and adding dimension to a sitter’s eyes. Westcott’s Eyelighter 2 Reflective Panel presents a novel means of adding continuous, semi-circular catchlights to portraits while wrapping fill light around faces and bodies. I tested it on a few portrait sittings to see how it performed.
One of the consequences of recent lenses becoming sharper and camera sensors becoming more sensitive is that photographs can relay an incredible amount of detail. Capture an eye in focus and it may reveal the entire environment in front of your subject—including you. Once artificial light sources enter the picture, reflections become even more noticeable. Negotiating catchlights can be a bit of a challenge, since they are dependent upon the shapes of the light sources that produce them. Awkwardly shaped lights can look unnatural when reflected in an eye, while smooth, round shapes can add life to otherwise lackluster sitters.
The Eyelighter 2 gets its name from the clean, continuous semi-circular catchlights that it produces. The silver surface included with the base model bounces a surprising amount of light, creating intense catchlights. I found that the silver surface had an effect that fluctuated between dynamic and distracting. Ultimately, the desirability of the catchlights it produces will come down to personal preference. When the entire U shape of the silver reflector appeared in an eye, it sometimes competed with the natural color of the eye. Luckily, the separately available white fabric cover dialed-down this effect a great deal.
Anyone who has needed an assistant to hold a reflector under a portrait sitter, or tenuously rigged a reflector for fill, will appreciate the practical appeal of the Eyelighter 2. While not as fast as unfolding a circular reflector, its setup takes no more than ten minutes. The reflective panel maintains its shape via tension rods securing it in place. The whole thing weighs about five pounds and easily screws into a light stand for support. Once secured, its angle is adjustable for further creative control.
Measuring a little under five feet in diameter, the Eyelighter 2 is wider than I had originally expected, and could be used to provide fill for small groups of sitters positioned close together. It collapses into a compact carrying case for easy storage and transport. Although it occupies a price point well above the typical foldable reflector, the quality of its materials left me confident that it would withstand the rigors of consistent studio use.
What are your tricks for achieving the best catchlights in your portraits? Have you tried the Eyelighter 2? Let us know in the Comments section, below.