Is Flash Photography Bad For Newborn Babies?

You’re standing in a studio and look into the flash just as it is triggered. You’re blinded by the light… At that moment you wonder if it was so harsh for you, isn’t studio flash photography bad for newborn babies and infant’s eyes or nervous systems? The medical community says NO, flash does not affect newborn children’s eyesight. If that were the case, one medical professional says: “We would have an entire generation of blind babies”

Does Photographic Flash Lighting Affect a Baby’s Eyesight?

The quick answer is: studio flashes do not affect a newborn’s eyes. But we do advise care and judicious use of common sense when photographing just-born infants (see reference links below). It would always make sense to stop using flash if you can see that the child is uncomfortable with it. You’ll see that infant photographer Amy Tong switched to using continuous light because flash disturbed infants even when they’re sleeping

Do Child and Infant Photographers Use Studio Flash Lights for Photography?

Yes, there are photography studios across the world that photograph newborn babies and young children. In fact, many even specialize in baby photography, and you’ve seen the results. Have we seen any widespread adverse effects of this frequent use of flash? The research says “no” (see reference material at the end of this article).

So, you can rest assured that your child is not likely to be affected by flash when it’s used for their first portrait.

If You Wish to Be Cautious, We Have Suggestions…

You may be a cautious parent. You may want to avoid using studio flash for photographs immediately after birth. If that’s the approach that you want to take, we have some guidelines that you can follow to get gorgeous photographs of your newborn baby without using a camera flash.

Guidelines For Newborn Photography Without Flash

We have prepared some guidelines for you if you are having your child photographed but are still hesitant to use flash out of an abundance of caution. By following these recommendations, you can begin taking captivating portraits while reducing any possible risk.
Some Dos and Don’ts are listed below.

Photographing Newborn Children Without Flash:

Baby
by Creativesam
  • Use Soft Reflected Light Make sure you have reflected sunlight light coming in through large windows while taking pictures. It goes without saying that a good time to take a picture is during the day when the sun is bright.
  • Use large apertures (i.e. smaller numbers) to let enough light in.
  • Use faster ISO such as ISO 400-1600, but it would bring in more noise. Don’t worry too much about noise, though. You can get less noisy pictures by using slow ISO such as 100, but best taken when you have a tripod, and when the child is asleep.
  • Use longer exposure (this is the shutter speed) while indoors. This is doable only when the child is asleep and not moving. The longer, the better for brightness, but very long shutter speeds are again … not good. Using a tripod is advised.
  • Photograph them when they’re asleep. This is a good idea for multiple reasons. There will be less movement, and you can use slow exposures with low ISO. However, you may want to capture the beauty and expressions while they’re awake too.
  • Don’t use HOT continuous lights. Although this practice in photography studios has long since been abandoned, I felt that I should mention that hot tungsten lamps emit IR radiation and heat, and could cause a young child some distress due to excess heat and constant exposure to intense lighting. On the other hand, new-age LED lighting (such as the Godox SL200W, which I have) can be used as it is not as hot, and provides even and powerful lighting with consistent white balance.

A mix of various types of images, in different locations, moods, and lighting photographed as they grow, up will allow you to have a wide range of images for your memory.

Do Not Do This While Photographing Newborns

  • Do not use flash in a dark room and while the child is awake. I do not know whether it is harmful to the eye, but a strong flash can be irritating, even to an adult; so surely babies feel it too. If you absolutely must use flash, remember that a dark room increases the contrast and the apparent intensity of the flash. If the newborn is asleep, their eyelids offer some additional protection.

Conclusion: Flash is Safe, But Play it Safe

There seems to be conclusive evidence that flash photography is safe for babies. Regardless, we have provided some options and ideas for you to try out if you want to photograph your child without a flash.

Having said that, I must agree with the medical professional quoted in the beginning. Almost every newborn I know has been photographed in a studio with at least two to three studio flashes in soft-box setups. Not one that I know of has any evidence of poor eyesight due to this type of photography. On-camera flash is much weaker in comparison and is even less likely to cause problems with an infant’s eyesight.

Feel free to check out the extensive references we have compiled for you below, including some very authoritative journals.

Happy Picture-taking!

References:

Here are some sources that have a definite opinion. The strongest is probably the first link.


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3 Comments

  1. Hi Susheel,
    Excellent article but I don’t agree with the tripod though. The answer is ur last point. We cant ask them to stay still especially 7 months to 2 years kids.
    The best possible solution I ve found out is the burst mode or continuous shooting. Sure it wastes lot of pictures but I end up with one picture which captures the innocence to my satisfaction. In the digital world of photography wasting pictures is not a big deal.
    Even the lower end cameras have this burst mode.
    I also tend to do a lot of wide angle shots because babies tend to move fast and always I prefer shots with head intact :)
    Regards,
    Rengarajan.J

  2. IF YOU DON’T KNOW — DON’T WRITE AN ARTICLE ON IT :D
    You can name it i.e. “how to avoid using flash for beginners”.
    But you name it “is it bad?”
    then write “I don’t know”
    then conclude “don’t use it”
    Nice joke. :) Take it easy.

    • Oleg,

      This article was written by a friend so I have left it intact. However, I did a little digging and found some answers. I’ve added a few links to the article that conclude that flash is not harmful to babies.

      I will write a more comprehensive post about it sometime soon.

      Cheers!

      Susheel

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