Removing Red Eye
How to fix red eye, and how to avoid it in the first place
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
Have you ever shot a picture of someone with a flash and noticed that their eyes appear to be glowing red orbs that vaguely imply demonic possession? Don't worry: your friend is probably not in need of an exorcist. But you, the photographer, are in need of some skills to help you eliminate the phenomenon known as red eye. Assuming you're unable to simply turn off the flash (which would certainly stop the problem), here are five tips to help you remove red eye from your photos, and how to use your flash appropriately to keep red eye from happening in the first place.
- GET THE FLASH OFF AXIS.
If you can manage to get your flash from right above the lens to somewhere well off-axis, then you've probably got 90% of your red eye problem solved. A great way to do this is to use a TTL extension cord and hold the flash at arm's length—which also has the benefit of generally looking more appealing on the subject, too. If you've got a long flash sync cord, or even a wireless radio set, you can put your flash on a light stand and position it literally anywhere you'd like. This will help you to not only eliminate red eye, but to start shaping the light like a studio photographer.
If you're stuck with an on-camera flash or one that's affixed directly to your camera's hot shoe, you can still mitigate the damage of red eye by softening the light, or even bouncing it from another surface. The latter approach works great if you're indoors, and especially great if you're in a room with a fairly low white ceiling. Tilting the flash up toward the ceiling turns the ceiling itself into the light source, making not only a beautiful soft illumination from above, but also turning the chances of red eye to almost nil. If your flash won't tilt, or if you'd still prefer a more frontal illumination, consider a flash modifier like a small softbox that will take the specular edge off the light source and lessen the chances of red eye.
Ever notice that red eye is more prevalent in dimly lit rooms or after dark? That's because your subject's pupils are wide open then to allow in the most light possible. And that's why your flash is able to illuminate the vessels inside the eye—the source of the red eye effect. If you shoot in an area of brighter ambient light—midday, for instance, or a brightly illuminated room—your subject's pupils will be contracted. This will also usually eliminate red eye. Failing that, consider a model light or other bright pre-flash to help your subject's pupils contract just before you snap your photo.
- AUTOMATIC FIXES.
Photoshop users have likely seen the red eye reduction tool, and so has anyone who works with RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw. Each retouching tool works in essentially the same way: enlarge the image to at least 100%, then drag a selection around the red eye and adjust the diameter and darkness of the fix until it blends in just right.
- MANUAL FIXES.
For those of you who prefer a manual fix to an automatic adjustment, or if the automatic retouch isn't working perfectly for you, consider the simple black paintbrush option. With the foreground color set to black, and a brush with a fairly pupil-sized, hard-edge activated, you can simply click to paint a new, pure-black iris over the red eye area in your image. Another approach would be to select an area around the red eye with a simple circular marquee tool, and then drain the saturation out of the red channel. Then a levels adjustment (or even brightness and contrast) can turn the now "gray eye" into a more normal looking pure black iris. However you choose to do it, hands-on control can help you eliminate every last vestige of distracting red eye if you're unable to keep it at bay while shooting.