As a studio light newborn photographer, I occasionally get questions from concerned parents about the safety of flash photography on their baby’s eyes. As a Mum of 2, I completely understand the concerns parents have. We all want to protect our little bundles of innocence from every harm we can.
Is flash photography safe for babies? The Chinese Baby who was “blinded by flash”
Last year the Daily Mail republished an article out of China that went viral on the internet about a reported 3 month old baby who had apparently gone blind as a result of having a flash photo taken “10 inches away” from the baby’s eyes. This article caused a lot of concern and worry among parents about the safety of flash photography. No specifics were provided in this article such as where the incident is reported to have occurred, the names of the parents, the names of the medical “experts” who were quoted, or the hospital where the baby was alleged to have been treated.
Flash photography – a doctor’s perspective
Since the article was released, many medical doctors specialising in child vision have debunked the idea that flash photography causes damage to babies eyesight. Dr Alex Levin, chief of paediatric opthalmology and ocular genetics in Philadelphia has been quoted as saying that the events described in the article are “inconceivable”. It’s more likely, the doctor surmises, that the infant was already blind in that eye and physicians discovered his condition when they examined him. “To attribute the blindness to the taking of a photograph would be incorrect,” Levin insists. “There’s no way that a camera can cause such damage.” Flashes are diffused light, he explains, “so they’re harmless.”
Studio Light Newborn Photography
Flash photography used during baby photo shoots is very different to what most people think of when they think of a flash. Most people think of the pop up flash unit on their little point and shoot camera. Professional baby photographers do not use this type of flash as it does not create very pleasing light on the baby. For the most aesthetically pleasing effect, we aim for very soft light using some sort of light modifier such as an umbrella or a softbox. During my newborn photography sessions, I use a large 50 x 50 inch softbox on the lowest light setting which diffuses the light dramatically. For the most pleasing results, I “feather” the light so that your baby is at the edge of the light. The resulting light that comes from my studio light is extremely soft and not at all bothersome to newborns. Here’s a behind the scenes shot to show just how soft the light is during my sessions:
In addition to this, the vast majority of the time, newborns are asleep for their photo session and some distance away from the softbox. Of course, I’m sure that it would be uncomfortable for a baby (and anyone for that matter) to have a direct camera flash in their eyes, particularly when in a dark environment. If we listen to the expertise of doctors such as Dr Alex Levin, it seems that flash should not be any cause for concern.
UPDATED 2019: Since I wrote this article 3 years ago I’ve been blown away by the huge interest in this topic. I thought I’d update it with the latest information. I now use a continuous light source instead of a flash / strobe unit. This is not due to any concern about flash safety for babies, but just because I found that the flash was startling newborns a little (even when they were sound asleep), and also due to frustration with the reliability of my wireless trigger unit from my camera to my flash unit. I now use a large PLM system with a Godox SL-200W continuous light I love my new light. Consistent colour temperature and consistent light so newborns aren’t startled… perfect!
Please feel free to voice any concerns or questions you may have about flash photography. I would be happy to help! Amy xx
Amy Tong is a multi award-winning newborn and baby photographer in Sydney’s Inner West, Australia. She has been photographing newborns and babies since 2012.