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.
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
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
Once 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