Can a camera flash hurt baby eyes

Undamaged Baby PhotoSafe Lighting

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 photographing my own grandson, I decided to some deeper research and answer the question: Can a camera's flash hurt a baby's eyesight.  Here's what I found out.

No, camera flash will not hurt a baby's eyesight. Although it seems super bright, the light from flash photography is no brighter than the light from the sun in the middle of the day. Your camera flash only lasts for 1/400 second or shorter, so there is no damage to newborns from camera flashes. They simply don't last long enough.

When your eyes become accustomed to a dim environment, the brightness of a 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.

Can a Baby go Blind from a Camera’s Flash?

Undamaged Baby PhotoStudio Flash

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.

how bright can a flash be before it's harmful to an infants eyesite

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.

  • Cell phone flashes are rather dim and only produce about 100 lumens of light, which is spread out toward the subject.
  • The average bicycle headlamp emit about 300-700 lumens and is somewhat focused forward.
  • A regular 60 watt light bulb produces about 1000 lumens of light and spreads out in all directions unless a reflector is used.
  • The small built-in pop-up flash gives off about 200,000 lumen.
  • Speedlights (flash guns) give out about 500,000-1,000,000 lumen.
  • Studio strobes, like the Paul Bluff B800 give off 28,000,000 lumen and have several reflector and diffusing options.
  • The sun gives off 6,840,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 lumen, spread out throughout the solar system.

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.

how to protect a baby's eyes from damage from a flash

kid's sunglasses on babyReduce The Light

Although it's been determined that camera flashes are not harmful, there are ways to reduce any risk to our eyes. Here are 3 ways to protect a baby from eye damage caused by bright lights and photography.

  1. Use a higher ISO setting on your camera to still get a good photo with less light needed for a proper exposure.
  2. Do not use highly powered, industrial strength studio strobes at close distances. 
  3. Flash photography should not be used to capture a baby’s picture in a completely dark room or extremely dimly lit conditions where your young subject's pupils are fully dilated to allow as much light in as possible. 
  4. Look for a spot with natural light from a window, but not directly in the sun.

how bright can LED lights be for baby photogrpahy

LED Light PanelLED Light Panel

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. 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.

sources used for this article

You can shoot baby photos without worrying about hurting your subjects eyes. Common sense dictates the lighting techniques you should use when photographing babies. 

Article published by Bruce Lovelace


Bruce is the publisher of Better Digital Photo Tips. Read more on the About Page. He's been known as The Traveling Photographer ever since he started his location photography business in 1994.

View some of Bruce's photos on Instagram.   Visit the Facebook Page. Watch him on YouTube.  Bruce runs photo workshops for kids and adults, and provides one on one digital photography coaching.

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