Author: Wes Waddell
Red-eye is the biggest problem flash photographers face with
both digital and film cameras.
The good news is that there are a few easy tricks that can
significantly and sometimes even completely reduce the effects
of red-eye. Here's a few of the simple tricks that I've
discovered that make my pictures worth mounting on the wall.
What is red-eye?
The simplest explanation I've come across is that red-eye is the
reflection of light, in our case the flash, through the open
retina of the eye. We've all seen it's effects in the glowing
red eyes of animals, kids and adults that have been captured on
film using flash photography.
So, if we know it happens... what do we do to limit it's effect
or, if possible, make it go away?
The pro's use long brackets and remote controlled flash units to
angle the light away from the camera lens. If you have the
money, this is by far the best and most reliable way to reduce
the problem. Trouble is, most of us (myself included) don't have
the resources or space to carry around this type of equipment. I
like that my latest digital camera fits in my shirt or jacket
pocket. That way I always have it with me if a special shot
How can you easily limit or prevent red-eye effects with a
pocket or instant camera?
Easy tip #1: Many of today's mid to upper price instamatic
cameras come with a built in red-eye reduction mode. If you know
you are going to be photographing animals or people with the
flash, even in daylight, then turn on this flash mode. Of course
this is where you must have actually read the camera manual so
that you know how to turn it on. After all, you can't use it if
you don't 1, know it exists and 2, know how to use it.
It amazed me the different modes and functions built into my
latest camera. But, that's a whole other subject. Bottom line,
at least read your manual once to see what capabilities you are
carrying with you with just the camera itself.
How the red-eye reduction mode works:
Again, I'll keep it as simple as possible. After all, we don't
need to know all the scientific details, we just need to know
how to use it correctly.
The red-eye reduction mode (and that's all it does is make it
less) either shines a bright light on the subject or it sets off
a small pre-flash ahead of the main one. What this does is to
make the person or animal close down the iris in the eye so that
less light will be reflected back into the camera lens through
the smaller hole.
Not perfect, but much better than glowing red eyes!
But, what if our camera doesn't have this option or if we don't
have the time or knowledge to turn it on?
Easy tip #2: When in control of the situation, use that control.
What I mean is that if you have the capability to pose and move
the subject(s), then use that control to reduce the effects of
red-eye. Since we know that red-eye is caused by light
reflecting back into the camera lens, have your subjects look at
a point away from the camera, maybe a picture off to the side on
the wall behind you or at another person. The key here is that
the larger the angle away from the lens, the less the possible
effect of the red-eye.
I've found that a spot maybe two feet off to one side does a
good job most of the time
of eliminating the red-eye while still
creating a photo that looks as though the subject(s) are still
looking into the lens. Depending on how close you are and how
bright your flash, you may need to experiment some to find your
What if you don't have control or you are taking candid shots?
Easy tip #3: The good news here is that candid shots usually
mean that the activity is the primary subject, not the
individual. In other words, you are not trying to make a
portrait of the individual; you are attempting to capture the
emotion of the moment in time. To do that, just compose (frame)
the picture so that the people or animals are only a part of the
event and looking at what is happening instead of into the lens.
For example, if the event was a wedding, snap the photo with the
bride and groom looking at each other or the cake. Or, if it was
a party, frame the person making the toast so that they are off
to one side, looking towards those that are being toasted. One
last example. If this was your family reunion, capture the small
groups that always form and snap the picture while they are
looking at each other telling and listening to the stories of
the past. If you can hear the joke being told, wait to snap the
camera shutter after the punch line comes out and capture the
smiles and laughter.
Easy tip #4: The amount of red-eye is in direct proportion to
the amount of light being reflected back to the camera lens. Use
the telephoto lens and distance to reduce the amount of direct
light coming back into the lens. Just be careful not to exceed
the maximum distance that the flash is capable of compensating
for. Most built in flash units have a limit of between 10 and 16
feet. Areas behind the subject will also fade into darkness
fast, but when the background is not important, this can make
for some very dramatic photo's.
What if none of this works for you?
If you are taking digital images, the good news is that there
are a lot of software programs out there that will edit out the
red-eye effects for you. If you are taking photographs with a
film camera, then you will need to either scan the image into
the digital realm or you will have to pay to have the photo's
retouched. Bottom line is that it can in most cases be fixed.
The real question is, how much are you willing to pay to have it
Plan ahead, practice and learn all the capabilities that come
with today's point and shoot cameras. Your photographs will show
About the author:
Wes Waddell is the co-founder of
Visit Kathy and Wes' digital scrapbook site and learn how to
turn your pictures into treasured family heirlooms.