Lessons from the Shot: Avoiding The Dreaded Red Eye by Stanley Leary


by Stanley Leary

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If people in your pictures appear possessed by an evil being (and you’re sure they’re not) probably the problem is the Dreaded Red Eye.
We have all seen the horrible red eye, but how do you avoid it? What causes it?
On camera flash is the culprit.
When the flash is so close to the camera lens the angle formed by the flash to the eye and back to the lens is so narrow the sudden bright light bounces off the retina and back into the camera lens.
The eye’s iris is open relatively wide before the sudden flash and what you see, the red, is a reflection of the light of the blood vessels in the retina. No wonder it is called the dreaded red eye.
Since the problem is the narrow angle between flash and lens combined with a wide-open iris, we must either move the flash or “stop down” the eye or both.
Changing the Angle
Many digital cameras have a flash built into the camera right next to the lens. Convenient, but it can cause our red eye problem. Some of these same cameras also have a hot shoe allowing you to use an external flash that is far enough away form the lens to reduce the likelihood red eye.
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If you use an extension flash cord (PC cord) you can raise the flash further above the lens not only avoiding red eye, but also casting the shadows down behind the subject and not on the wall behind your subject. Ever been to a wedding and watched the photographer, well that’s why she got her flash stuck way up in the air above here head.
Another way to increase the angle is bouncing the flash. Use a flash with a tilting head bounce the light off of the ceiling. Don’t try this where the ceiling is very high like in a church or outside unless the lowlying clouds are extremely low (just kidding).
Other Ways To Solve The Problem
Some cameras have a red eye reduction feature. The camera fires a burst of flashes before the actual flash. This burst of bight light causes the eye to “stop down” and, theoretically, reduce red eye. It is also very irritating and causes blinks. Well, that would get rid of the red eye.
Another method, have the subjects glance at a lamp in the room. If it’s daytime, have them glance at a window.
Do you really need a flash?
There are times you will have to use it. But more lights could be turned on in a room to get the light bright enough for photography? Maybe just move your subject close to a window. Perhaps you can raise the ISO, i.e. from 200 to 400.
The “available light” photos can be beautiful and move your photography to a whole new level if done correctly. Why not take the person outside in what Kodak likes to call “open shade” found in like the shadow of a house.
Oops! Too late.
People have left and NOW you notice the dreaded red eye. All is not lost. There’s probably some software that came with your camera that allows you to fix red eye on the computer. Since there are so many different software solutions you will need to refer to your manual for this fix.
I like to check before making photos to see if there is enough light to work without flash. Firing a flash announces that someone is making pictures, which defeats any opportunity to capture people as they are.

Sometimes you just have to use flash, but now we know how to avoid some of the problems it causes.