Our Photography Courses Blog

Seeing with one eye

On a recent photography course in Scotland at Culzean Castle, we met Jim, who’d recently lost the sight of one eye due to diabetes. (In fact we were eating Tatties and neaps washed down with Irn Bru, but that’s another story).  Jim is a keen landscape photographer, and he has been amazed how much effect his recent disability has had on his perception.  He’d expected to reach out and miss objects, and to find driving etc more difficult, and he was right.

What he hadn’t expected was how it had spoiled the way that landscape looks.  The whole view is flattened and uninvolving, with foreground and background objects blurring together given half a chance.

Why this is important is that the camera has only one eye, so it has Jim’s disappointing perception all the time.  It’s why a landscape that looks great to your eyes can take a poor photograph.  A good landscape picture makes you feel like you’re there, looking at the view not just at a picture of it.  This is why the photographer needs to be concerned about dangling branches that blend in with the trees behind.  Some views (a castle through the trees, for example) are almost impossible to capture in the way you see them visually, because you have two eyes and the camera only has one.  Jim, as the human camera, can see this.  It’s worth bearing in mind with every photo you take.


At the other end of the scale, some lucky people have gained binocular vision after years of “stereoblindness”.  Susan R. Barry, neurobiologist at Mount Holyoke College was so badly cross-eyed that she did not have binocular vision, just the sight of one eye at a time.  After therapy, she was able to see as we do, in stereoscopic vision.  This was written up by legendary neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, of Awakenings fame.   She wrote a book - Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions.  Might be worth picking up if you like this kind of thing!

When we give people photos to look at we are often trying to re-create a scene we saw with our two eyes, our colour-perception, our perception of movement and importance in the frame.  The camera knows nothing about all this, so it needs a bit of help in the composition.


It looked better in real life!


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