Reader Story: Legally blind photographer finds his vision through his camera

by Guest Contributor

posted Monday, November 2, 2015 at 8:00 PM EDT


When we first came up with the idea of posting reader stories, a big part of our thinking was that IR readers would almost certainly have some unique experiences and perspectives to share. This piece by legally-blind photographer and IR reader Mark Nicol goes beyond anything we'd expected, though.

For most of us, photography is a way to preserve memories, share them with friends, or create art. For Mark, it's a whole other way of experiencing the world. But that by itself doesn't explain the sense of deep joy he gets from creating images. That comes from a photographer's heart, and is universal among us.

We also found it surprising, though, what a discerning photographic "eye" Mark has. Thinking about it, limited eyesight doesn't necessarily have any effect on one's sense of proportion, contrast, and composition, but we were amazed nonetheless, to see such great photos come from someone society labels as "blind".  

Read on, for Mark's story!

By IR Reader Mark Nicol

Doing an internet search for "legally blind photographer" will yield many results today. Typically, photographers with a visual impairment will talk about how their cameras augment their ability to see the world and how they have a unique style or approach to photography because of their eyesight. I hold these sentiments as well but what strikes me most about being a photographer who is legally blind is the unexpected and unadulterated joy I get from making images. I came to photography by accident after buying my first camera, a compact digital, at 34 with no intention of even pursuing it as a hobby. It quickly became a passion.

I believe my visual impairment and the corresponding joy I get from photography account for why I can't settle down and specialize on one type of subject. For years portraiture was off limits in my mind because I could not see people's expressions well enough to make effective images. Once I became more comfortable with my camera and with lighting, I was able to focus on overcoming this issue and found simple techniques that allowed me to pursue portraiture. I will often shoot, chimp at high magnification and then redirect my subject, working at improving toward a final portrait. [Ed. note: "Chimping" is a photographer's term for looking at your photos on the camera's LCD screen. It supposedly came from the sounds people make when doing so, "ooh ooh" sounding like a chimpanzee :-)] I also do a lot of mirroring for my subjects. This image is from a fun series of staff photos I did for a company where I asked each person to bring something to the shoot that they are passionate about. This woman loves shoes so I first shot a portrait of her and then photographed a bunch of her shoes on the same backdrop and composited everything together.

Canon 5DII / 70-200 f4L is / 1/200s / f11 / 70mm / Overhead medium softbox / umbrella fill

Landscape photography was a safe starting point for me from the standpoint of photographing with low vision and I continually look for opportunities to get out in nature to shoot, although it can be difficult without being able to drive. I shot this last year near my home on Vancouver Island. I noticed the lines in the water and emphasized them by getting low with a wide angle lens. The image was fairly void of color so I converted to black and white and worked on emphasizing the contrast.

Canon 5DII / 17-40 f4L / 1/160s / f16 / 17mm

I was very fortunate to begin traveling in my late 30s and I try to make the most photographically of our trips abroad. One of my greatest joys is going for an early morning walk and looking for photographs of a city while it awakens. This was shot at the Venice fish market. I found this pleasing composition and waited around for someone interesting to fill the archway. Having low vision, this is a great approach for me, as I am able to latch onto a static location and wait for the image to come to me in a sense.

Canon 5DII / 70-200 f4L is / 1/200 / f7.1 / 106mm

To see more of Mark Nicol's photography click here!

What do you think? Any comments or questions for Mark? Please leave your thoughts below!

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Reader Stories is a new column on our site, a platform for our readers
to share images and ideas with our community. It's a great way to share your creativity and passion with your fellow photographers out there! If you'd like to submit a story of your own, please visit this news story for more information on how to submit an entry. We look forward to hearing from you!