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Babies and Flash

Should you use flash for baby pictures?


Ask mom to take her newborn into a windowed room where there is plenty of soft, natural daylight.
Ask mom to take her newborn into a windowed room where there is plenty of soft, natural daylight.

IS A BABY’S EYESIGHT AT RISK FROM FLASH USED IN PHOTOGRAPHY?

At least one reputable electronic flash manufacturer provides the following warning in its flash instruction manual: “Do not fire the flash directly into a person’s eyes at close range as this may damage the retina, leading to partial or complete blindness.”

Another manufacturer states that “Indirect or bounce flash should always be used for small children, babies and animals as their pupils are far more widely open....”, but this advice appears to be in reference to the elimination of “red eye” in your pictures, not risk of eye damage.

STAY ON THE SAFE SIDE

We prefer to err on the side of caution and recommend using natural, ambient light whenever possible, or indirect or bounce flash (not direct, close-up flash), when photographing babies. You should never fire a flash directly into a baby's or anyone's eyes at close range. Since the flash may be triggered automatically with many point-and-shoot cameras, check to see whether yours has an override switch or setting that will let you turn off the flash before you take a picture of a baby, particularly a close-up.


Another reason for avoiding direct flash when photographing babies is that the sudden bright illumination can startle many babies, even though the brief burst of light from an electronic flash is more or less instantaneous, probably averaging 1/1,000 second.

PHOTOFLOODS OR HOT LIGHTS PRECAUTIONS

Although photographer’s photo flood lamps (also known as photofloods, flood lamps and hot lights) are not “flash” lights (because they do not give off a burst of light, but rather burn constantly with a very bright light), we mention them here because of the need for caution when they are being used to illuminate a scene, particularly a scene that includes children.

Photo flood bulbs and quartz lights generate a good deal of heat and should not be used where children could get close enough to them to come in contact and be burned. Never place a photoflood where it could accidentally fall on a child or come into contact with a crib’s blankets, for example.

No one should look directly at a burning photo flood, particularly up close; their intense light output could cause eye damage and they have even been known to explode.

DIFFUSED DAYLIGHT IS BEST

When photographing a newborn baby, select a location in the hospital or at home where indirect daylight or the light from an overcast sky is coming through a window.

Bright rays from the sun itself create too much contrast (dark shadow areas and bright highlights) for a newborn's pictures. If the sun is streaming in, place a sheet over the window to soften the light. If the curtains are sheer and white, close them to filter and diffuse strong sun light.

Then, with your flash shut off, move in to fill the frame with the subjects and take a naturally-illuminated picture.
Then, with your flash shut off, move in to fill the frame with the subjects and take a naturally-illuminated picture.

Arrange the newborn's covers so you have a clear view of baby's face, and have mom hold the thumb away from the mouth for baby's first official portrait.
Arrange the newborn's covers so you have a clear view of baby's face, and have mom hold the thumb away from the mouth for baby's first official portrait.

TIPS FOR YOUR NEWBORN'S FIRST PORTRAIT

(1) Have mom hold her baby so the little one's face is placed in natural light.
(2) You may need to use a high sensitivity setting in your digital camera or a fast film in the range of ISO 400 if light levels are low.
(3) Get in close to fill the frame with the baby's face, and take a number of pictures as the newborn's expressions change.
(4) Watch out for the thumb in the mouth, and have mom gently remove it just before you take a shot.
(5) Don't rush, wait for little changes in expression and take plenty of pictures. You won't regret it years from now when you open the family album and re-live the moment you were introduced to your new son or daughter.