How many countless photos have you taken at birthday parties, weddings, or bar mitzvahs that came back from your film developer with annoying red eye? The same thing can happen with animals, however, the result is usually a greenish or silvery glow. One of the most common problems novice photographers encounter when photographing people or animals is red eye. The problem is caused by the flash of the camera illuminating the rentina of the eye. With people the retina is made up of hundreds of tiny blood vessels. When lit by the camera's flash it reflects the red color of these vessels.
Today many point and shoot cameras offer a red eye reduction feature. A tiny strobe light will pulse from the camera prior to the camera shutter opening and closing. The theory is that the iris of the eye will narrow when exposed to the bright light. This offers a smaller area of the retina, containing the tiny blood vessels, to be exposed while the photo is taken. However, this doesn't always eliminate the problem. The reason is the proximity of the flash to the camera lens, it's just too close.
I have a friend who is now on his fourth camera within the past five years due to photos coming back from the lab with red eye. The red eye reduction feature on these cameras has never been consistent and still continues to result in red eye more often than not.
One of the ways to eliminate red eye if you own a point and shoot that doesn't allow for an attached accessory flash, is to either photograph the subject in the brightest ambient light possible or make sure the subject is not standing directly in front of you. Bright ambient light gives you, the photographer, the advantage of narrowing down the iris naturally before the strobe goes to work. The other option is to photograph the subject at an angle, so the lens will not have a direct line to the back of the eye's retina. This decreases the chance for the film to see the red retina.
Now, if you own or use a higher end camera, you most likely have the opportunity to utilize an external or accessory flash. These are usually mounted on a bracket off to the side of the camera. The advantage here is that the camera and the flash have some distance between them. We want to create as much distance between the flash and the lens of the camera as possible, this way the lens won't see the light bounce directly off the retina. The result is little to no red eye.
My biggest breakthrough in regard to reduction of red eye came when I was introduced to a diffuser that mounts to the top of the flash unit over the light. I use what's called a 80/20 (80% / 20%) diffuser. When photographing people or animals, I use it in the following manner. I aim my flash at a 90 degree angle up from my subject, basically into the sky. Because I am utilizing the 80/20 diffuser, 20% of that light is directed, in a diffuse fashion, back down at my subject. The results are fantastic! I eliminate red eye and create a softer more natural looking light for my subject. Not only does this reduce red eye but produces a softer light for the subject without harsh or annoying shadows behind them.
A couple of last things to consider would be the difference between photographing children and adults as well as complexion. A rule of thumb is that the younger the subject the wider the retina and the greater opportunity for red eye. The other point is that fairer skinned persons and people with blue eyes have a tendency to produce the red eye effect more than their counterparts. Consider these and the other suggestions the next time you photograph people and animals and you should have better results when you pick up your prints.
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