Reducing red-eye

Many people have bemoaned the appearance of red-eye in photographs. Since many important events are held either indoors or at night, this unwanted effect can ruin treasured photographs. Thankfully, you can use your PC to remove red-eye, but it will take some patience and experimentation. However, as with many aspects of photography, it is better to avoid the problem in the first place rather than spend time fixing it afterwards.

Avoiding red-eye

Red-eye is caused by light bouncing and scattering off the retina and back directly to the camera. The pupils dilate in dark rooms or at night, which means that a larger area of the eye will reflect the flash and appear to be red. When the pupil is smaller, red-eye is dramatically reduced - however, if you look closely at flash photographs, you can frequently detect traces of it. The principle behind a camera's red-eye reduction is that the camera flashes twice - the first time causes the pupils to shrink, and the second flash illuminates the actual photograph. It takes a second or two for the eye to react, hence a delay is needed before taking the photograph. The problem is that people will often move or look away after the first flash. Even a Photoshop master will have trouble fixing this problem!

A simpler trick is to take two pictures, or to ask your subjects to momentarily look at a nearby bright light.

Avoiding red-eye altogether requires you to move the flash a suitable distance from the lens, so that the reflection of the flash is not caught by the camera. Unfortunately, this is rarely practical, as many cameras have built-in flashes.

Fixing red-eye

Several graphical packages claim to fix red-eye with the click of a button. Unfortunately, the results are often patchy if you choose an automated system. The programs often substitute a colour for the subject's eyes, meaning your blue-eyed partner may suddenly get brown eyes. The next issue is that, with digital photos, the red tint can bleed into the whites of the eye. The end result is that a rounded iris can become distorted when the red is indiscriminately replaced. However, in some circumstances, the automated repair option can fix an image with little fuss. There are no hard and fast rules, but to banish red-eye properly, you will still need a decent image editor. As a time-saver, you can use an automated package to make the major corrections, and then tidy up the image with the graphics software.


Adobe ActiveShare is a free graphics program that boasts a one-click red-eye removal option. You can't set the colour of the eyes or tweak settings, but it is simple to use. First up, start ActiveShare and load your photo with the red-eye problem. Click on the Red-Eye reduction option in the Fix My Photo menu. Then, using your cursor, drag a square outline around the affected eye. Note that occasionally the colour replacement will bleed, so try to correct this by selecting a slightly different area.

Paint Shop Pro 7 also ships with a red-eye correction tool. It gives the user a great deal of control, but there are many options to adjust and this will require some understanding of more advanced editing techniques. To try out this option, from the menu select Effects-Enhance Photo-Red-eye Removal.

Manual correction

To correct red-eye manually, load the photograph and then zoom into the affected area. Most red-eye is circular, so use the circular select tool; alternatively, use the lasso option. Depending on your package, you can now manually adjust the colour of the eye. In Photoshop, one way is to use the Levels histogram (-L), or you can adjust the colour by selecting Colors-Adjust-Color balance (this can also be used for Paint Shop Pro). You will then need to work on darkening the pupil using a similar approach. The feathering option can also smooth the colours. For other spots, use the stamper tool (Photoshop) or clone tool (Paint Shop Pro). Simply sample a nearby area of the eye and paint over the affected areas.

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Scott Mendham

PC World
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