When I was a fulltime baby photographer, occasionally a parent would express some concern about whether the camera's flash could harm a baby's eyes. Back then there was no internet, so researching such a question would have been more challenging than it is today.
I reassured the parents that the Novatron flash I was using wasn't bright enough, but it still did make me wonder.
Now that I'm a grandparent and I get to photograph my own grandchildren, I've become even more curious. I decided to some detailed research and answer the question: Can a camera's flash hurt a baby's eyesight. Here's what I found out.
When your eyes become accustomed to a dimly lit environment, the brightness of a camera's flash appears to be super bright, but it's really only relatively bright to the darkness of the situation. You should be more concerned about protecting a baby (and yourself) from the long term damage of UV radiation from the sun.
There was a story floating around the internet a few years back, claiming such a thing. That story was that a baby in China had gone completely blind in one eye and had severe damage in the other eye because of exposure from a cell phone camera flash. It was not true.
According to Jacksonville ophthalmologist, Jeffrey Levenson, "It’s clear that flash cameras don’t damage babies’ eyes. If they did we’d have an entire generation of blind babies, and of course, we don’t. So, flash cameras are perfectly safe for babies."
The proof is everywhere around us. If it were true that flash damages eyesight, all 3 of my frequently photographed, now adult-aged kids would have developed vision issues by now.
Very similar in principle to getting the right exposure for a photo, the total amount of the radiation from the light depends on how bright it is and also how long the exposure is to the light.
Here are a few estimates of the amount of light coming from various lights that could be used for baby photography. With the exception of the regular lightbulb and the sun, all of the durations of brightness are quite brief.
Of all these light sources, which is the most likely to cause damage to a baby's eyes? Over a lifetime of exposure, perhaps the sun is the biggest threat. That's the most disturbing cause of harming a baby's eyesight because it's the toughest one to limit. Think of it like just the damage that the sun causes to our skin over a lifetime of exposure.
Although it's been determined that camera flashes are not harmful, there are ways to reduce any risk to our eyes. Here are 4 ways to protect a baby from eye damage caused by bright lights and photography.
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One way to insure that your baby's eyes aren't hurt from using flash is to use natural lighting instead. The lighting in the baby portrait below is 100% natural.
We positioned a chair close to a double wide window. I also positioned a large white reflector board to the left of my subject for added fill light. I had an assistant very close by, just off camera to the left, to keep the baby from losing his balance.
Here is another example of Safe baby portrait lighting. This little guy was taking a nap after a busy morning of play with his grandparents.
A double hung window right next to his sleep area provide a beautiful soft light on his precious little face.
Certainly a focused laser light could be harmful to anybody's eyes, just like viewing a solar eclipse could be, but what about the newest craze in lighting baby portraits, LED panels?
LED light panels are great for shooting portraits and won't hurt baby eyes health. They are much less bright than the sunshine. Use the ones that have a diffusion panel built in.
For an in depth article on some easy baby poses and safe lighting for newborns you can copy, I recently updated my article on baby posing.
"Are Camera Flashes Harmful to a Baby’s Eyes" at baby.med.com
"Is Flash Photography Safe for a Baby’s Eyes" at parenting.firstcry.com
"pathomorphological impacts of flash photography on benthic fishes" at nature.com
Rest assured, you can shoot baby photos without worrying about hurting your subjects eyes. Common sense dictates the lighting techniques you use with the photography of infants and young children are completely safe.
Stay inspired with your photography!