Are You Damaging Your Eyes

by Ellen Anon

Imagine waking up one day and realizing you can’t see right out of one or both your eyes. It would be pretty terrifying, right? But not likely to happen to you because bad eye trouble and loss of vision happens to old people and you’re not old, right?

Well, partially right. Some eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma are more common in the elderly. But they happen to younger people as well. Those of us who photograph outdoors may be doing some things that may increase the risk of eye trouble down the road. I’m blogging about this to alert you to a few of the things that you might be doing inadvertently that could increase your risk for eye trouble later and to warn you about symptoms that you must pay attention to immediately or risk permanent eye damage. (I learned the hard way and hope that by sharing a few things, perhaps my experiences will help one of you somewhere along the way.)

The chances are that most of you wear sunscreen if you’re going to be outside for any length of time. But do you wear sunglasses when you’re photographing? Polarizing sunglasses - which I love for driving - are a pain when you look through the viewfinder, especially if you have a polarizing filter on the lens. The resulting cross polarization makes it challenging to fine tune composition and nearly impossible to manually focus. The result for me is that when I’m out photographing I often skip the sunglasses. That leaves my eyes open to all the UVA and UVB rays - which are thought by many to contribute to cataracts. And the damage is cumulative. UVA and UVB protective non polarizing sunglasses are in order while photographing.


2007-10-10 06:28:08
While on our Honeymoon in Venice, I composed a a backlit portrait from a moving boat. The results are lovely (lens flare and all), but I got a blind spot for hours afterwards.

Josh Lane
2007-10-10 07:57:35
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience on this topic. I often shoot into the sun. Over the years, I have always taken precautions, but thanks to your advice... I'll be extra careful.

Pretty risky when you realize that sometimes it only takes making one mistake to do serious damage. Will also get some sunglasses.

bob hawbaker
2007-10-10 09:13:21
a site/organization about progressive visual loss

2007-10-10 11:08:19
you can get hats with floppy brims as opposed to the foam reinforced rigid baseball caps that don't get out of the way when you peer through the viewfinder. I found a boonie type hat from Columbia Sportswear that works well even when I use a camera in portrait mode. It also shades your ears and the back of your neck when shooting outdoors on a sunny day.
2007-10-10 13:18:56
I've been a glasses wearer for close to 25 years at this point, so I'm pretty conscious of my eye health. I also have fairly light sensitive eyes, so I tend to wear my sunglasses most of the time. However, I frequently do remove the sunglasses when I'm out with my camera, not because of cross-polarization (they aren't polarized), nor the inconvenience of looking through the viewfinder (I still have my glasses to contend with), but because they affect my sense of color. Sometimes it doesn't matter - I'm more interested in the object or composition or I know ahead of time what it really looks like, but frequently it is the range or mixture of colors that make a photo worth creating. I already have the limited dynamic range to contend with and I don't particularly like to further separate the image I see in my mind's eye from what actually gets captured by the camera.

[I have started wearing a boonie hat as well when I'm outside shooting for a prolonged period, but I still find the brim a little annoying when I shoot in portrait orientation...]
2007-10-10 15:25:29
Read your post with interest, CSR sufferer affecting my right eye with wiggly lines making me very dependant on auto-focus. Male aged 46. Most people don't realise they suffer it, I was surprised to be told there were signs of an earlier occurance in other eye as well. Very little is known about CSR, but by process of elimination we think we have identified the cause in my case as being steriod cream, prescribed to clear up a skin infection on our baby. The smallest amount of steriod cream on the finger can cause it, there is no warning. Mine first appeared as black sopts in the central vision, slowly healing. Thankfully I can enjoy photography again.
Juergen Bosch
2007-10-10 22:41:33
Thanks for sharing your story. You only have two eyes, better take care of them before it's too late.
I believe I will have troubles sometime in the (hopefully distant) future, but for the time remaining I want to see it all.
Ellen Anon
2007-10-11 07:36:14
Thank you all for your comments. Finding a hat that works for you and that you'll wear are really important. It's similar to finding a tripod that you're comfortable with and will carry and use. Initially it feels inconvenient but then it becomes a habit. And be careful when aiming your lens at the sun. Develop habits that protect your eyes so you can show the world your photographic vision for a very long time.
2007-10-11 08:48:50
While we're on the subject of eye health, does anyone else fine the white type on grey background of this site hard to read?
Ellen Anon
2007-10-11 09:45:11
Ian, I actually find the white on dark gray (and not black) pretty easy to read but in some browsers you can choose how the page appears. For example, in Firefox go to Preferences > Content and choose the colors you prefer. Then uncheck the option to have the page colors override your choices.
2007-10-14 11:06:30
Thank you for posting this. I have never had any eye problems, but since I do have ear problems conserving my sight is a priority.

It is the same situation with ears, any sudden loss of hearing should be considered a medical emergency and taken very seriously right away. I lost my hearing in 1993 from a mysterious virus. It generally doesn't affect both ears as it did for me, and usually hearing returns with treatment, but not always, and the longer you wait the less likely the treatment will work.

I'm glad your eye surgury went so well!