To flash or not to flash? How to take the perfect selfie

In this modern age, the quest for the perfect photo, whether it be a selfie, group photo, or an insta of your meal (seriously, people need to stop doing that) has become a challenge for many. There’s nothing more frustrating that being tagged in a photo the morning after a night out to see that whilst everyone else is looking unquestionably delicious, you’ve got flushed cheeks, bad hair, and red eyes.

Noone wants a photo of them like this appearing online (Credit: adam.barlow via Flikr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0])
Noone wants a photo of them like this appearing online (Credit: adam.barlow via Flikr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0])
Sure there’s always photoshop, but what’s the science behind you looking so bad? Inevitably the flushed cheeks are from the alcohol you had almost consumed pre-photo, and the bad hair could have something to do with your shampoo. But the red eyes, well that’s where it gets interesting…

The science behind red-eye

Red-eye is caused by light from the camera flash reflecting of the fundus at the back of the eyeball. This light is given its strong red colour from the high concentration of blood vessel contained behind the retina at the back of the eye. So why do some people seem to get red-eye more often than others?

Red-eyes are more likely to be seen in people who have smaller amounts of melanin, since this controls how much light is absorbed by your eyes. The more melanin present, the more that light that will be absorbed rather than reflected. Put simple, more melanin = less chance of red-eye, Less melanin = greater chance of melanin.

The amount of melanin is directly related to skin and hair colour, and is found in higher concentrations in dark skinned, dark haired people. This means that fair skinned people are the most likely to suffer from red eyes in photos. Although melanin has only minimal impact on iris colour, the people most likely to suffer from perennial red-eye, are blonde haired, fair skinned, blue eyed people. Maybe this is the universe getting back at all those people blessed with perfect blonde hair and blue eyes; by cursing them with bad red-eye in photos. That’s what I like to think anyway.


Blue eyes are so much nicer than red ones (Credit: Desirae, via Flikr [CC BY-NC 2.0])
Blue eyes are so much nicer than red ones (Credit: Desirae, via Flikr [CC BY-NC 2.0])
Capturing the perfect photo

So just how can you take the perfect red-eye free snap, short of carrying around some dark contacts in your pocket to slip in every time a photo’s being taken? The simple answer is to not use a flash on your camera, but clearly this is only useful during the day. Similarly, the darker it is when the photo is being taken, the more the light will reflect of your eyes and the redder they will be. But again, this isn’t practical, since the whole reason of taking a photo is when it is too dark to otherwise produce a clear image. Another solution for reducing the red eye is to move the flash away from the camera lens. This increases the angle that light has to travel, and means less light will reflect of your eye back to the camera.

Not as bad as drunk texting or calling, drunk photos are still a no-no

But perhaps the best suggestion here is quite simple: don’t be drunk. I’m not telling you to not get drunk, just take the photos early in the night before you’re quite so intoxicated. As well as generally looking  better and less uncoordinated, alcohol slows down your reaction time, and this is true of the your pupils as well. When drunk, your pupils will dilate slower, meaning more light will enter your eyes, and more light will be reflected.


Alternatively, if you own a fancy new camera, you could always just take the photo with the red-eye reduction setting turned on. This generally utilises two flashes, one to constrict the subject’s pupils, and the second to illuminate the subjects whilst the photo is taken. Then you’re all set to upload your fabulous new photo to Instagram. Once you’ve applied the right filter of course. And applied all the hashtags you can think of. Who knows, it could even become your new facebook DP.

One Response to “To flash or not to flash? How to take the perfect selfie”

  1. tcouper says:

    Great post Abe. This is an interesting and informative piece for red eye occurring in photos of humans. I was wondering if in other animals like cats, dogs or even insects the concentration of melanin is a factor when taking a photo? I notice every time I get a photo of my cat with flash it comes out with Red Eye so I imagine he has relatively low melanin.