Photography Tip—Simple Tips to Control the Red-Eye Effect

eye image

No doubt, you’ve seen and taken those “deer-caught-in-the-headlights” digital photos: A person, a pet or maybe an actual deer is photographed with a flash unit in a dark environment and their eyes glow red. They look as if they are possessed by evil spirits or just landed from an alien planet. Knowing why this happens and then applying the tips in this article will help you control the red-eye effect, and even eliminate it.

Red-eye (also known as pink-eye) occurs when the light of an electronic flash hits the retina at the back of the eye directly, which causes it to reflect back into the camera on an equally direct path. Reducing or eliminating red-eye in your digital photos, therefore, is a matter of changing the angle of the direct path of light into the eyes and/or back to the camera.

The professional solution

Professional photographers and accomplished amateurs have the equipment (DSLR camera, movable flash, etc.) to eliminate red-eye. They simply detach the flash unit from the camera and hold it at a slight angle and above the subject. The angle of the light has been changed, so it no longer bounces directly off the back of subject’s eyes.

The point-and-shoot solution

Only a small percentage of digital photographers can afford the professional solution to red-eye. You may be a beginner with a compact, or point-and-shoot, camera. If you’ve bought an average-priced or better than average-priced compact, then it probably has a red-eye reduction mode. Read the manual; you may be surprised to learn what your camera can do.

This mode “reduces” the red-eye effect; it doesn’t eliminate it. In this mode, your camera’s flash produces a brief bright light or pre-flash that tricks the openings of your subject’s eyes to become smaller. This lessens the amount of light entering and leaving the eyes, which then reduces the red-eye look in your digital photos.

Move your subjects.

Not all compact digital cameras have a red-eye reduction mode. You can still lessen the effect, however, by simply directing your subjects to change their angle to the camera or to look slightly off the direct line to the lens. Ask your subject or subjects to look pass the camera at approximately two feet on either side. The distance between the camera and your subjects and the brightness of your flash may affect how much they look off camera.

Compose the picture differently.

In most cases, you use your point-and-shoot camera to take candid digital photos, so you don’t want to ask people to pose and look off camera—it wouldn’t be a candid! You want pictures of people relating to each other, enjoying the family event or gathering, party, etc. Position yourself so you can compose a picture of people focusing their attention on a primary object, such as a wedding or birthday cake, instead of the camera.

Shoot with a telephoto lens.

When you stand farther from your subject and shoot with a telephoto lens less light will enter the camera. You must remain in the range for your flash unit, however. That range is typically 10 to 16 feet.


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