Photographing When Legally Blind

by Dick Coulson

Most people assume that you have to give up photography when you become legally blind. This is not the case, but you do have to photograph differently. Taking pictures while blind requires persistence and effort but it can be just as satisfying as it once was. It certainly helps if you can start this new venture somewhat before your eyes test 20/200 so that you can adapt further if your vision worsens. The thing that makes it all possible is the digital camera. You cannot focus so the camera focuses for you.Camera

One of the more recent innovations is the electronic viewfinder. This is not to be confused with the screen on the back of a digital camera. An electronic viewfinder is like the old 35mm viewfinder in that you actually look through it. Then you see a small screen that is a direct electronic feed from the image sensor, which appears like a television screen. In dark areas, such as dimly lit rooms, this image appears much brighter than it would through the pentaprism of an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera or the viewfinder on an older 35mm film camera. When you go outside, the electronic viewfinder will become dim automatically so that it is not excessively bright. This is helpful when you have vision problems. As my eyes got worse, the dimmed view outside was too dim for me. My eyes now test worse than 20/400 at this time and light gathering capability has also diminished. I would suggest looking for a camera with an electronic viewfinder.

There is a huge selection of cameras on the market and new models come out every six months. I suggest some specific models to save you hours of looking and frustration. I base my advice on the fact that I have been a serious amateur photographer for nearly 50 years.

The best electronic viewfinder is on the Panasonic G-2 at this time. This is a high-end camera and sells for around $700. The lenses are interchangeable on this camera. Other less sophisticated models are "bridge" cameras, which are smaller than an SLR and larger than point-and-shoot cameras. The Canon FX30 and the Olympus EP2 are examples. These have electronic viewfinders but do not have interchangeable lenses. I suggest that you go to a large camera store and name these models, asking in the process what they have that is comparable. Models are changing constantly.

Another class of digital camera worthy of consideration is a camera somewhat larger than the very small point-and-shoot camera that fits into your pocket but which is more versatile if you wish to be more creative in your photography. An example is the Cannon G12, which sells for approximately $500. This is one of the very few cameras with a small viewfinder to look through. It also has a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screen in back. This camera does not have an electronic viewfinder, but the small viewfinder is very helpful when the light outside is bright and you can't see much on the LCD. Some professional photographers carry this camera for back-up. Men can carry it in a pouch on their belt while women can carry it in their purse.

TripodOnce you take a picture, examine it on the LCD screen with a hand magnifier. You should not use the light on the magnifier. Look to see if you actually got what you wanted (eyes open, correct focus, etc.).

The strength of the magnifier depends on your eyes. I need a 10x magnifier. However, my eyes are worse than 20/400 and I cannot generally see the big "E" on the chart unless I look at it eccentrically.

I have recently discovered that I can take pictures by doing a lot of guessing. I can look at the LCD screen, which is very much out of focus, and still get results. I see big things, arrange them the best I can, and then take the picture. Do not forget to look eccentrically at the screen so you see as much detail as possible. You must try any camera inside and outside the store before buying. You should also check the return policy.

We don't have to give up everything we like to do, or did before, just because we are legally blind. I intend to continue photographing for some time since it is a constantly changing and an ever expanding field with the advent of digitalization. There is still great fun to be had.

I recently gave a demonstration in a meeting. I showed some 12" x 18" prints taken before I was legally blind and some taken after. The audience could not tell the difference!
Knowing that we be can be the same kind of excellent photographers we were before going blind, may we all continue to enjoy this wonderful hobby.