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Case 6 - Red Eye Reduction (Well, sort of. . .)

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This subject comes up a lot on the rec.photo.digital newsgroup, and I thought it might be worth addressing briefly.   Granted, this will never be an issue for your old tintypes, but modern family photos are worth preserving, too.  In this age of point- and shoot- cameras with the flash close to the lens, red eye can make an otherwise terrific family photo unusable.  Fortunately, it is pretty easy to correct it.  I'll show you how I do it, and tell you about a alternatives.

First, a caution for the purists.  Here we are purposefully modifying an image in a manner that is not representative of the original photo.  If you do not want to do this, it is time to find another section.

The image above is from a digital camera.  My subject, Tasha, happened to cooperate when I wanted to test using raw files, and not having an external flash handy, I used the on-camera fill flash.  I want to make her photo look as good as possible, since she serves an important function here at the Virtual Vintage Image - she sits on the monitor while I'm working at the computer to make sure the monitor doesn't float away.  She also will occasionally drape her tail across the screen to remove all that unwanted dust buildup.

The photo is suffering from a case of "red eye" (in this case, it is closer to "green eye" since cats have different pigments in their retinas).  This results from having a flash unit which is very close to the camera lens.  When the subject looks straight at the camera, the light from the flash goes through the pupil (the hole in the eye that normally looks black), reflects off of the retina at the back of the eye, and back to the camera lens.  If you ever have a chance to look at a normal human retina, you will find that it is a yellow-red color, due to blood vessels and light sensitive pigment.  The light reflection off the retina into the camera lens is what gives the bright red (or in cats, green) flash where normally you would expect a black pupil.

Why a cat for this tutorial, by the way?  First, their modeling fees are really cheap.  More importantly, their pupils are not round, which makes them a touch more difficult to work with in getting rid of red eye.  If you can do cats, you can do people.

The best way to deal with red eye is to avoid it in the first place.  If you use a flash, try to use an external flash, and move it as far away from the lens as possible.  Many point and shoot cameras with lenses close to the lens have a "red-eye reduction" feature.  This causes the flash to shine in the subjects eyes for a few seconds prior to the exposure, resulting in a smaller pupil and less light transmission through the eye.  If you have to use the on-camera flash, try to have as much ambient light as possible (same idea).  If you really want to see a dramatic case of red eye, have your subject stare right into your lens (with your flash right next to your lens) in a dark room so that his or her pupils are dilated wide open.  You'll get great red spots in their pupils.

But what do you do with that perfect family picture in which everyone has glowing red eyes?  Take a look at the photo above.  The cat was looking at the camera when the flash went off.  The pupil on your left has a reddish tint, and the one on your right has a greenish tint.  Otherwise, it is not a bad photo (it needs some sharpening and playing with levels, but we'll save that for later).  How do we fix this?

First, some photo editing programs have a red-eye correction feature (though I do not use them).  Picture Window does not have this, and I do not believe Photoshop does either.  Many of the "easier" photo editors, such as Picture It, do have this feature however.  What some programs will do is paint a black filled circle with a small white circle in it.  This represents a black pupil, with the highlight from the flash (look closely at the pupils in the photo above - that white spot reflecting from the flash is important to keep or the photo does not look realistic).  You simply tell the program how big and where to make the circle, and it pastes it over the pupil affected by red eye.  Abra Cadabra! No more red eye.  I have not tried too many different programs with these, and have not been particularly happy with the results on the ones that I've tried.  I've heard some people say they have gotten great results, so if you have the feature on your program, by all means try it.  The programs I have used have only produced round pupils - great if your subject is human, but look at the cat: the pupils are not round.

I'm always interested in hearing about what good editing software is out there, so if you know of any software that does a real great job of fixing red eye, let me know.  Interestingly, Q-image (see Links page) is fairly good at this.  Instead of artificially drawing in the flash highlight in a pure black background, it puts in a semi-opaque black circle, so the flash highlight and a little of the original color can show through.

Next, I'll show you how I do it.

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