The Extinction of the Red-Eye Effect

As a kid, I remember the final scene of Dallas where one of the characters turned out to be a demon. How’d you know? It was the red eyes. Dead giveaway that the person’s a demon.

Fast forward a few years and as a teenager, I was trying my hand at photography. I had a Nikon SLR and a flash and the delay between taking the photo, finishing the roll of film, and dropping it off for processing, and then picking it up was exciting. It had all the trappings of playing lottery tickets and was only a bit more expensive.

Taking photos of people, one of the worst effects was the red-eye effect. When flash would enter the pupils and reflect back red, ruining a shot, especially if your subject was a self-image sensitive teenager. There were all sorts of techniques to reduce this effect. Have the subject look away was one. Then there was the double flash, that helped contract the subject’s pupil before the main photo.

As digital photography started to catch on 20 years ago, it became easier to remove red eyes with editing. And then slowly automatic tools started showing up — 10 years ago online tools like Picasa (now Google Photos) made it easy in one press to remove red eyes. And now? You never see it.

First, the dynamic range of iPhones and Android devices is much broader that flash isn’t needed as much. Second, if red eyes do appear, they are detected and removed on device with post photo filters. You’d have to shoot in raw formats to remove this editing, if possible.

More so than the techniques behind red-eye effect removal is that the problem is so solved that it makes one nostalgic when it does appear. I’m curious about what “problems” we’re solving that are going to be nostalgia for us in the next decade. Maybe a few would be:

“Remember when things would stain clothes permanently?”

“Remember when you had to plug in your phones to charge them!”

“Remember when you used to not know how many calories you burned in a day?”

“Remember when you had to know how to parallel park to get your license?”

(and driving… oh, there’s going to be a lot of nostalgia over the next 20 years)

“Remember when you had to go in person to get your x”

“Remember when you used to have to carry keys?”

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