Red-eye effect

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The red-eye effect in photography is the common appearance of red pupils in color photographs of eyes. It occurs when using a photographic flash very close to the camera lens (as with most compact cameras), in ambient low light. The effect appears in the eyes of humans and animals that have no tapetum lucidum, hence no eyeshine,[citation needed] and rarely in animals that have a tapetum lucidum. The red-eye effect is a photographic effect, not seen in nature.



Because the light of the flash occurs too fast for the pupil to close, much of the very bright light from the flash passes into the eye through the pupil, reflects off the fundus at the back of the eyeball and out through the pupil. The camera records this reflected light. The main cause of the red color is the ample amount of blood in the choroid which nourishes the back of the eye and is located behind the retina. The blood in the retinal circulation is far less than in the choroid, and plays virtually no role. The eye contains several photostable pigments that all absorb in the short wavelength region, and hence contribute somewhat to the red eye effect [1]. The lens cuts off deep blue and violet light, below 430 nm (depending on age), and macular pigment absorbs between 400 and 500 nm, but this pigment is located exclusively in the tiny fovea. Melanin, located in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and the choroid, shows a gradually increasing absorption towards the short wavelengths. But blood is the main determinant of the red color, because it is completely transparent at long wavelengths and abruptly starts absorbing at 600 nm. The amount of red light emerging from the pupil depends on the amount of melanin in the layers behind the retina. This amount varies strongly between individuals. Light skinned people with blue eyes have relatively low melanin in the fundus and thus show a much stronger red-eye effect than dark skinned people with brown eyes. The same holds for animals. The color of the iris itself is of virtually no importance for the red-eye effect. This is obvious because the red-eye effect works best when photographing dark adapted subjects, hence with fully dilated pupils. Photographs taken with infra-red light through night vision devices always show very bright pupils because, in the dark, the pupils are fully dilated and the infra-red light is not absorbed by any ocular pigment.

The role of melanin in red-eye effect is nicely demonstrated in animals with heterochromia: only the blue eye displays the effect. The effect is still more pronounced in humans and animals with albinism. All forms of albinism involve abnormal production and/or deposition of melanin.

Red-eye effect is seen in photographs of children also because children's eyes have more rapid dark adaption: in low light a child's pupils enlarge sooner, and an enlarged pupil accentuates the red-eye effect.

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