Is camera flash actually harmful to infants or newborns?

  • I just got a new off-camera flash, and the instruction manual says:

    Never fire the flash unit closer than 1 meter from infants.

    This was a little startling to me, since one of the main reasons I bought the flash was to take photos of my newborn son.

    On the other hand, knowledgeable sources on the internet seem to say otherwise:

    Q: What long/short term risks are there to using camera flash in photographing a 2-month old?

    A: None, shoot away. -- John C Hagan III, MD, FACS, FAAO,ATD011008

    Q: Can a camera flash harm an infant's eyes?

    A: No, it cannot. Actually infants have more protection from a flash than adults since they are usually not interested in being photographed and do not look right at the camera. Also, they typically have smaller pupils. This means less light reaches the retinas. -- Don Bienfang, M.D.

    Q: Can a camera flash harm an infant's vision?

    A: The flash of a camera, even if used to take many, many pictures of your newest family member, should not harm an infant's vision. Although the flash seems very bright, it actually isn't much different from normal daylight. -- Leann M. Lesperance, M.D., Ph.D.

    So what's going on here? Are the makers of the flash just avoiding a lawsuit? Is this a myth? Or are the doctors just thinking about little on-camera flashes and neglecting to think about more powerful flashes?

    (And if it's NOT a myth, can I assume that bounce flash is acceptable?)

  • mattdm

    mattdm Correct answer

    10 years ago

    I think you've answered the question yourself pretty well, with citations and everything. There's little real risk, and the flash manufacturers are erring on the side of caution in order to protect themselves from litigation. To add to the background, here's a quote from the website of a neonatal intensive care unit — if there'd be a case where it might matter, presumably at-risk newborns would be the most vulnerable. But they say:

    We encourage you to take pictures of your baby. Flash cameras are allowed and will not harm your baby.

    For further citation, see this other Q&A site, where ophthalmologist Dr. Richard Bensinger (a graduate of the highly-regarded Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) says:

    In brief: No effect; the light from a flash is too unfocused and of low intensity that it cannot damage a baby's eyes.

    The question has other doctors saying the same thing, as well.

    Note that neither of these statements are couched in wishy-washy covering-all-bases language, but instead say unequivocally "no effect" and "will not harm your baby".

    That said, I don't think being flashed right in the eyes with a bright flash is very nice, especially from up close. And I'm not even a baby. Bounce (or otherwise diffused) flash is the way to go for this and for a number of other reasons as well — it's an easy way to provide nicer-looking light and more natural shadows.

    Bounce flash is definitely the way to go: in fact, _that's_ why you bought a 'proper flash'. As for flash in the eyes, I've heard several cases of retinal cancer being caught early because of an abnormal reflection (white rather than red) in a child's eye in a photograph.

    I'd think that the real danger is psychological rather than ophthalmalogical -- a large, dark after-image in someone too young to associate cause and effect might be distressing. (Remember flash bulbs and the big purple tear in the universe they'd leave you with for a quarter-hour?) If the baby has no problem with flash, then you probably shouldn't either.

    Yes, definitely bounce it if you can!

    After taking some test shots of myself, I realize now that the flash is WAY bright. I agree -- it's not nice at all. For shots of my son, I'm pretty sure I will only use flash that is both bounced AND diffused.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM