Why cats eyes glow white when photographed with Flash

 In LEARN, Photography

While teaching a Wildlife Photography Workshop at the Singapore Zoo recently, I decided to use a little fill flash to brighten this tiger portrait.

To my surprise, the tiger’s eyes glowed white – a very unattractive portrait!

Curious, I decided to do a little research to find out why.  I discovered that this effect is typical when photographing cats using flash.  Cats often hunt at night and their eyes are adapted to help them see better in the dark.  There’s a special reflective layer behind the retina which acts as a mirror, reflecting light so it can be reabsorbed by the cone cells of the retina.  This is what causes the ugly white glow in the eyes.  

If you’ve photographed a cat using fill-flash and want to get rid of the ugly white eye effect, use a cloning tool.

Lightroom White Eye Removal

In Lightroom, I used the Spot Removal Tool to get rid of the white glow in the tiger’s eyes.  I enlarged the spot until it covered the pupil, and used the dark jungle background as the source to replace the white retina area.  I left a tiny bit of the white glow so that it looks like a natural catchlight. 

The result is a significantly improved portrait.  Though in hindsight, I would have saved myself the trouble and not used flash to photograph the tiger.

Tiger Portrait by Karen Lucas Photography

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