Problems with Red Eye

Understanding and Working Around Red Eye Issues

How many times have you taken a picture only to have your friends and family come out looking like an army of red-eyed zombies? You’re not alone. The problem of red eye in point-and-shoot digital cameras is almost a given since invariably the flash is set too close to the lens.

Why does red eye happen?

The camera’s flash illuminates your subject’s retina, which is made up of hundreds of extremely small blood vessels. Light them up and the red of the blood reflects to create the effect you don’t want. Something similar happens when you’re taking pictures of animals. A part of their retina called the tapidum lucidum reflects light back on the cones and rods in their eyes that allow them to have better night vision than humans. The result can be a bright yellow, white, green, or even blue glow.

Understanding the deficiencies of point-and-shoot flashes.

Apart from the position of the flash, many cameras have no controls to bring down the intensity of the light emitted. Thankfully, however, most mid-range and prosumer point-and-shoot cameras do give the photographer that control. Get out the manual and find out how to reduce the intensity of the flash by one or two steps. That’s usually enough to correct the red-eye issue. For those who are stuck at just one level, the only option is to correct the problem in post processing with software like iPhoto or PhotoShop Elements.

How does post processing red-eye correction work?

In the majority of cases post-production red-eye correction is completely automated. The software instructs the user to click on the red dot in the eye, which is then replaced with a gray dot. Be careful to do this correction with the image magnified to achieve correct placement of the gray dot so the eyes will look as natural as possible.

What can you do to stop or lessen red eye while taking the picture?

The standard answer is don’t use the flash. Any photographer will agree that images taken in sufficient light without the harsh shadows caused by a flash are more aesthetically pleasing, but it’s not always possible to go without the flash. There are, however, a few tricks you can use.

– If possible, turn the flash down.

Take some test shots and try to pull the level of the flash down so that the foreground of your photos is not over-exposed and washed out. This may result in indoor shots with an almost black background, but that’s not always a bad thing if your primary goal is to photograph people in a pleasing way.

– Use the camera’s red eye reduction features.

Generally, this is a delayed flash. Essentially what will happen is that the flash will fire to illuminate the scene and then again to take the photo. This will require your subjects to be still and a steady hand on your part. Wait for the second flash and then wait a couple of seconds for the image to process in the camera before moving. Otherwise, you’ll likely get a blurred picture.

– There’s actually an easy fix for animal eyes. Hold one hand up and to the side and get the animal to look away from the camera slightly. Generally this is enough to stop or to greatly minimize the effect of the camera flash and often makes for a better portrait because focus is an issue due to the extended length of the creature’s muzzle. It’s always a quandary. Nose in focus or eyes? (Go with eyes.) With shots where the animal is looking to the side, however, the focus dilemma just isn’t there.

One good thing about digital photography is that you can take as many pictures as your memory card will hold. Never try to get the perfect picture in just one shot. If you’re not filling up the memory card, you’re not taking advantage of the flexibility and low cost of digital photography. Red-eye is a funny thing. It will be present in one exposure, but not the next taken just seconds later. So the rule of thumb is, take more shots than you need and never let anyone see your failures!