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Why Do We Sometimes Get Red Eye When Taking Photos?

July 16, 2013

Uncovering why our eyes sometimes turn colors when taking photographs.

The summer season is full of fun and exciting activities for your whole family to participate in. Whether you have been spending the majority of your long, sunny afternoons swimming in the pool, or your kids have been busy enrolled in summer camps and sports, you will surely want to document each of these events so you can remember your fun times in the sun for years to come.

shutterstock_57468907However, when toting your digital camera to the beach this summer or developing your roll of film after your family vacation, you may notice that some of your family photos have been interrupted by the dreaded “red eye.”

This common photo effect occurs frequently in pictures where a flash has been used or photos have been taken at night. While the majority of your photograph may come out crystal clear, the eyes of certain family members may appear to have a red glow that can give your vacation photos an unwanted spooky effect that is typically reserved for Halloween.

While there are a number of photo editing programs (and even cameras with built-in red eye technology) to take care of this common problem, what exactly causes red eye in the first place? Today we are uncovering why this photo effect happens and looking at other instances of eye flashes that may be of concern to your family.

What Causes Red Eye?

The red eye effect that often appears in photographs is actually caused by the eye itself. When our eyes are lined up straight-on with the camera and flash, it causes the light of the flash to be reflected directly to the back of the eye. Once there, it is reflected off of a layer in the eye called the choroid, which is located behind the retina. This layer is rich in blood vessels, which is where the red color comes from, and the light of the flash gets reflected from that layer.

In order to prevent red eye, many cameras utilize a “red eye reduction” feature which actually causes the flash to go off twice―just before the picture is taken and then again when the photo is captured. This helps to significantly reduce red eye because the first flash causes our pupils to contract and therefore prevents a reflection coming from the choroid.

What About Yellow Or White Eyes In Photos?

In some unusual cases, you may notice that your child’s eyes may frequently have a white or yellowish glow to them, as opposed to a red glow. If this is the case, you should notify your eye doctor immediately to rule out any potentially dangerous vision problems. This white or yellow glow, called leukocoria, could be a sign of eye infection, retinal detachment or even cataracts.

A white or yellow eye shine in photos could also be a warning sign of a rare type of childhood cancer called retinoblastoma. Other signs and symptoms of this disease include a deterioration of vision, red and irritated eyes and a squint in vision.

To ensure that everyone in your family is having a fun and safe summer holiday, make sure that you are following proper eye safety measures during your activities and that you are scheduling your regular family eye examinations. Contact OCLI today to learn more about vision problems to watch out for during the summer season!

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