What are the dangers of using flash when photographing a dog?

The big debate amongst pet photographers and dog owners alike, is whether it’s acceptable to use flash when photographing dogs. Some argue that the sudden burst of light can startle or frighten dogs, potentially causing stress and anxiety, others believe it is okay.

To gain a balanced view, I interviewed Veterinarian Chris Tomlinson from Rackheath Veterinary Surgery in Norfolk. I posed the question ‘Is it acceptable to use flash when photographing a dog?’

Does flash hurt dogs eyes?

About Chris

For over forty years, Chris has practiced as a Veterinary Surgeon, initially in Cornwall then Tanzania. Rewind to 1991 – Chris returned to practise in sunny Norfolk.

Does Flash Hurt Dogs Eyes?

Does flash hurt dogs eyes?

Let’s be honest, many of us love photographing our furry friends but have you ever wondered if using flash lighting can harm their dog’s sensitive eyes? There are lots of views on the subject, many of which are biased to their profession, hence me wanting to gain an independent view from a pet healthcare provider.

Chris explained, ‘there are two types of cells in the retina which receive light: rods and cones. Rods sense motion and work best in low light conditions (think black and white) ; cones are for brighter conditions (think colours). All mammals, including humans, have more rods than cones”

I decided to undertake a little more research ; I discovered a research paper that stated:

“A comparison between the cone-to-rod ratio of human eyes and dog eyes shows that humans have approximately one cone for every nine rods, while dogs have a ratio of about one cone for every 20 rods’

Reference: Mowat, F.M., Petersen-Jones, S.M., Williamson, H., Williams, D.L., Luthert, .J., Ali, R.R. and Bainbridge, J.W. (2008): Topographical characterization of cone photoreceptors and the area centralis of the canine retina. Molecular Vision 14: 2518-2527.

Chris’ opinion is that flash should not hurt a dog’s eye but could startle the dog.

Does Flash Hurt Dogs Eyes?

Is flash lighting too bright for a dog?

Some argue that a bright flash may startle or disorientate their furry friends, others claim that it doesn’t bother them at all. I asked Chris about ambient light in the studio and what to look for if a dog may be startled or anxious. Chris stated ‘ look at a dog’s pupil, if it is enlarged then your studio is probably too dark as the pupil is enlarged to let more light in. If you see an enlarged pupil it is more likely the flash will startle and disorientate the dog”. “However, it might not be the intensity of the light either, it could be that the dog just doesn’t like the flash pointing at them. If the dog yawns, goes and hides or disengages then something is wrong”

I explained to Chris that a dog doesn’t really know what a flash is, so what I do is set the flash off and then reward the dog, set the flash and reward, so then the dog learns that this new thing equals reward. Chris agreed this was a great way to engage the dog.

Does Flash Hurt Dogs Eyes?

How do I introduce a dog to flash light?

Chris advised that if the dog is happy with you, then you should introduce it to the flash but if the dog is not confident with you yet, then ask the owner to do it.

Approaching a dog in the correct manner may lead dogs who have a naturally curious nature, to be intrigued by the bright light of the flash. Start by turning the flash so it bounces off the wall or the floor, away from the dog, allowing them to observe it from a safe distance. Then gradually move the dog closer to your preferred setup, this will motivate the dog to accept the flash.

Does Flash Hurt Dogs Eyes?

Does flash light aggravate a dog’s eye conditions?

Looking at a human eye, can provide an insight into human diseases, I asked Chris if this was the same for dogs and would flash light aggravate a pre-existing condition?

Chris informed me that the most common eye disease suffered by our canine friends is Lenticular Sclerosis, which typically gives the pupil a cloudy, blue-grey-white appearance. Most dogs start to develop Lenticular Sclerosis around the age of 6-8 years, although many owners don’t notice the change until a dog is older and the disease has progressed.

Conjunctivitis is another condition, this is inflammation (swelling) of the conjunctiva’ and can have a variety of causes, such as dryness, bacterial infection, allergies.

Chris said flash light should not aggravate these conditions but they will show up more in a photograph when flash is used.

Does Flash Hurt Dogs Eyes?

In summary

Ensuring responsible flash photography with utmost professionalism involves taking into account the various factors that contribute to a dog’s well-being. It is paramount for photographers to prioritise their client’s dogs by being mindful of any signs of alarm or distress caused by flashing lights – every dog is individual and could react differently. By attentively observing a dog’s pupil size before firing a flash, as professionals, we can make informed decisions regarding lighting adjustments aimed at minimising any potential negative impact on these animal.

Responsible practice should be for for us to position ourselves where dogs will be photographed and trigger flashes accordingly, then assess our own personal comfort levels, carefully examining whether bright spots appear in our eyes. This way we can confidently affirm that we have fulfilled our obligation to practise excellent dog welfare in our studios and when using flash.

Our Dog Photography Studio is in Swaffam Norfolk, a short drive from Kings Lynn, Norwich and Thetford