Uncle Rudolf, the Red-eyed Relative

Holiday time brings families together and someone always has a camera to capture the memories.  All too often the pictures seem to be of devil children with bright red glowing eyes and ghostly washed out skin.  Using the on-camera flash can cause these, but there are some simple techniques which can help reduce the damage. Understanding what causes the red-eye is pretty simple.  The light from the on-camera flash is almost directly in line with the lens, so the light hits the blood vessels at the back of the eye and reflects straight back into your camera.  And yes, you can easily “fix” the problem in most photo editing software, but that does look like it when you are finished.

First of all if you have the choice—don’t use the on camera flash at all.  Get a good flash unit.  Just moving the light source those few inches above the lens makes a huge difference. 

If you have to use the camera’s flash, there is often a red eye reduction mode.  It sends out several small but bright pulses which cause the victims pupils to contract, lessening the impact of the main flash.  You can also just have the subjects look away slightly. 

Some cameras will allow you to adjust the power level of the flash.  Remember the sensor is trying to even out the exposure across the entire image, so if it is dark, the system will overcompensate and blow out the skin tones.

If you can’t adjust the power in the camera, you can try to spread out the light and diffuse it making it seem softer.   Just taping or holding a 3x5 card above the light source will help.  Or you can tape a piece of cheesecloth over the light to spread it out as well.