A Short Course Book
Using Your Digital Camera
A Guide To Great Photographs

Portraits with Flash

Eric shows one way to avoid red-eye.
Click to explore red-eye.
People aren't the only ones to show red-eye as shown in this flash photo of an owl.
The almost universally accepted icon for redeye reduction mode.
Flash is a good source of light for portraits, particularly of children. The light from the flash is so fast that you never have to worry about your subject moving during the exposure and blurring the picture. For the same reason you don't have to be quite as careful about camera motion blurring the image; you can hand-hold the camera and shoot as rapidly as the flash will recharge.

Positioning the Flash and Subjects

You may want to choose carefully the position of the flash. Light from a flash built-into the camera often produces less attractive results than if you use an external flash to bounce the light onto the subject off a wall, ceiling, or umbrella reflector.

When photographing more than one subject, each is given the same importance when lined up parallel to the camera because each receives the same amount of flash illumination. If they are at different distances from the flash, they will be illuminated differently. This is a good way to make one more visually dominant than others in the image.

When a subject is placed close to a wall, there will be a distracting shadow in the image cast by the light from the flash. By moving the subject away from a wall, these shadows disappear.


When photographing people, you'll often see images with what's called "red eye". The light from a flash has entered through the subject's pupil and reflected off the back of the eye (the retina) and back out to the camera. Since the retina is lined with blood vessels, the reflected light takes on a red color. To eliminate red-eye, many cameras have a "red-eye reduction" mode. This mode works by firing a short pre-flash lamp or a burst of flashes to close the subject's iris a moment before the actual flash fires to take the picture.

To minimize red eye, you can also move an external flash farther away from the axis of the camera lens, tell the subject not to look directly at the camera, or increase the overall room lighting. You can also remove red-eye later using a photo-editing program, but it's easier to avoid it to begin with.

Red-eye can look eerie and be corrected in a photo-editing program, but it's best to avoid it.
Red-eye reduction flash works best when the subject isn't too far away and looks directly into the camera.

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