Are there cameras that are accessible for those who are blind or partially sighted? Not specifically but whether you want to take casual snapshots or make photographic works of art, read on for ideas on how you can take control over your camera.
I have been doing photography fairly seriously for about ten years. In that time, I have adopted several tricks that have significantly upped my average of keeper shots. Although I have partial vision, I believe several of these tips will be helpful to those wishing to photograph without sight as well. I have included a few of my photographs in the post. I routinely use all of the techniques and settings suggestions that you are about to read about.
Image Caption: Wheat fields, sweeping lines and power lines in black and white.
Auto everything – As a starting place, simply place your camera in full auto mode and fire away. With each new generation, cameras are getting better at determining focus and exposure and will automatically apply a myriad of settings changes based on information coming through the lens all with the intention of giving you the best rendition of whatever you point your camera at. Most people never take their cameras off of this setting.
Semi-automatic modes – if you want to take a more creative, hands-on approach to photography, more advanced cameras have aperture and shutter priority modes. These allow the user to select either a shutter speed or an aperture value (depending on which mode the camera is set to). The camera then selects the remaining exposure settings. A discussion around exposure generally and shutter speeds and aperture values specifically is well beyond the scope of this article but they are key for anyone wanting to take their photography to a higher level. Many cameras have dedicated control wheels to change these settings. With a bit of practice, it is possible to work with these values non-visually by counting clicks on the control wheels.
Image Caption: 1956 Mercury Montclair photographed at dusk in front of Pluto's Diner. Pluto's neon sign lit up.
Bracketed exposures – As great as auto and semi-automatic modes are, they don't always nail exposures perfectly. Professional photographers routinely use the bracketing feature on their cameras. This forces the camera to quickly capture three (or more) shots; one at the brightness determined by the camera or the photographer and at least two more, one brighter and one darker. These extra shots act as an exposure safety margin to help ensure the photographer ends up with something usable.
Auto focus – Modern auto focus has been a game changer for me and many other photographers. Auto focus can easily detect faces and smiles. It can track objects in motion and it can be programmed to always lock on to the object closest to the photographer – no more in focus backgrounds and out of focus people in the foreground. Once you know the rules that your auto focus uses, you can rely on it to take the guess work out of focusing the camera.
User defined profiles – although most of the features discussed here are usable without sight, set up of the camera is generally done through a non-accessible series of menus. For instance, a high end autofocus system may have dozens of settings that can be changed to customize how it will behave. Many cameras now have two or more user profiles. These allow the photographer to change any number of settings in the camera's menus and assign that set up to a user profile position on a dial. Personally, I have three slots on my camera and can switch between landscape, outdoor portrait and studio setups by turning a dial. Each of the three positions represents dozens of settings changes that I have specified inside the camera. Because of these, I rarely need to access the camera menus.
Image Caption: Jojo the cat and four tiny, colourful birdhouses against a white backdrop. Jojo has a hungry look on his face as he anticipates birds exiting the houses. Unfortunately for him, the houses are merely decorative.
Shoot wide – all of this is well and good but a problem remains. If you cannot see well or at all through a viewfinder or camera LCD screen, how can you ensure that your intended subject ends up in the frame? Using a wide angle lens is a great option. Admittedly, shooting wide has a certain look but it allows you to include a lot in the frame from left to right and top to bottom. If you've chosen a really wide lens, your subject will be in the frame as long as it's somewhere in front of your camera. The trade-off is that your subject might end up quite small in the picture unless it is very close to the camera.
With practice, and if needed some feedback from a sighted friend, the field of view of a more normal or even a short telephoto lens can be learned. Without sight, a long telephoto lens would prove very difficult to shoot with, as its angle of view is so narrow and generally subjects shot with such a lens tend to be quite far away. It's a little like trying to hit a mosquito with the tip of a pool cue. So, either shoot wide or strive to learn the characteristics of your lens over time. Zoom lenses can prove problematic for those with very low or no vision. Because zooms have continuously variable angles of view through their range, it is difficult to learn to work with them intuitively without sight.
Take your time – use a tripod – Personally, I tend to be fairly slow and methodical when I shoot. I use a tripod because it helps ensure that my photographs are sharp and it lets me be meticulous with my framing. Having low vision, I find that the extra time I take to ensure I am capturing my subject as intended really pays off with improved results.
Image Caption: Shadows from an unseen tree make interesting patters on two adjoining brick walls. Converted to black and white with some brown toning.
Live View and loupes – practically all cameras provide a live view of what the lens sees into an LCD screen. Although these three to four inch screens are quite small, they are much larger than a tiny camera view finder. Also, all cameras with live view allow the user to pick a part of the frame and magnify it ten times on the screen. This is very useful for checking framing and focus. Furthermore, many photographers use a magnification loupe on the LCD screen to further magnify content there and to cut glare on the screen. Using a loupe magnifier may be very helpful for working through the menu structure in your camera as well.
Tethered shooting – Many cameras will allow photographers to use a tablet or computer as a viewfinder. By using either a wired or wireless connection photographers can connect their camera to a computer and change all of the major exposure settings, focus an image and trigger the camera shutter from the computer. The viewfinder becomes as large as your computer screen. Also, if you are a screen magnification software user, it can be called upon when the camera is tethered.
Hopefully these tips will either help you get started with using a camera or help further your own photography. Over the years, I have read about many photographers with low vision and several who are blind. I will likely introduce you to the work of some of these wonderful artists in a future post.