Looking Through One Eye and Looking Through Two

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Most of us look at the world through both eyes. But whenever we take a photo, we close one.

I want to encourage you to reverse this practice.

Why it's worth having both eyes open when you take a photo

© Pansa Landwer-Johan

Why Look at the World Through One Eye?

With a few exceptions, cameras don’t have two lenses. They record an image through a single lens, which is why the results are always two-dimensional.

But when you look through two lenses, as you do with binoculars, you’ll perceive more depth in the scene.

(That’s why we see with two eyes. It helps us perceive depth and distance between objects.)

Closing one eye lets us see a scene in the same two-dimensional manner our camera will record it.

This can be helpful in pre-visualizing a photo. When you use one eye, you’ll see the relationship between objects in your field of view differently. This can be particularly helpful when making a portrait, or photographing anything you want isolated from the background.

With both eyes open, you may not notice something ‘growing’ out of your subject’s head. Closing one eye lets you see distractions relating to your subject more easily.

Looking Through One Eye and Looking Through Two

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Experiment Now

Hold your index finger up and stretch your arm out towards a glass or similar object two or three meters in front of you. If you look at it with both eyes open you’ll  still see the object. But if you close one eye you’ll be able to hide it behind your finger.

Looking Through One Eye and Looking Through Two

Closing one eye and holding your hand to shield the sun helps you see where the clouds are and whether one will soon block the sun.

As you become accustomed to how this works, you’ll start looking through your lens in new ways. Knowing you have less depth perception looking through one eye and one lens can help you position your camera with more precision.

This is particularly helpful when photographing an isolated subject. When the background contains distracting elements, even a slight change in camera position can help hide them. By moving left, right, up or down a little, you can eliminate things from view. Similarly, it can help to close one eye while preparing to take a photo.

Looking Through One Eye and Looking Through Two

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Why Look Through Your Camera Viewfinder With Both Eyes Open?

With both eyes open you can be more aware of what’s happening around you. It’s easy to get consumed by an interesting subject while looking through your viewfinder. You may not see something else interesting happening nearby.

Being aware of someone potentially walking into your composition can also help you time your photos better. With both eyes open you can see who’s coming and choose whether or not to include them in your photo.

When you’re making portraits with a shortish lens (70mm or wider on a full-frame camera), having both eyes open makes you less anonymous to your subject. And they’ll be able to relate to you more easily if they can see one of your eyes.

Using a longer lens and keeping both eyes open gives you a more open view of your surroundings. When you focus through a long lens, it’s easy to lose some sense of depth in relation to your environment.

When photographing with a bright light in front of you or off to one side, closing your non-viewfinder eye will be less distracting.

Looking Through One Eye and Looking Through Two

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Don’t Expect to Master This Today

Concentrating on what you see in your viewfinder is more difficult when you have your other eye open. Learning to split your vision and scrutinize what you see through your lens and with your other eye is challenging.

Like anything else you want to learn, you must practice. Even when you’re not taking photos, you can still discipline yourself to leave your other eye open while your main eye is at your camera’s viewfinder. The more you do it, the more natural it will become.

Repetition will build muscle memory, and you’ll get used to separating the two fields of vision.

Looking Through One Eye and Looking Through Two

© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Conclusion

Most people who do anything exceptionally well are usually somewhat different – even eccentric. Closing one eye to look at the world and then keeping them both open while looking through your camera may seem a little weird. But don’t worry about what other people might think.

These two simple techniques will take some getting used to. But once you do you’ll  see so many things in new ways and take better photos of them.

So set yourself the task of practicing one eye closed and both eyes open. Stick with it until it feels natural, and you’ll soon appreciate the benefits.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and filmmaker with over 30 years experience. Kevin is offering DPS readers his FREE course for beginner photographers which will build your confidence in photography. You will learn how to make sense of camera settings and gain a better understanding of the importance of light in photography. Check out Kevin's Blog for a wide variety of photography related articles.

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  • Jore Puusa

    When shooting both eyes open – the right eye does not start to get wet. If one closes the left eye the right eye gets stressed after some minutes ( assuming You are a pro and shooting an icehockey for instance) It is harder to see with a wet eye.
    You may save your life when holding the left eye open. With shut eye You do not see the car coming at You ( or in USA the police starting to shoot You 🙂 etc.
    You can see something coming out of ones head with both eyes open. You do not have to shut the left eye for that. When practiced enough – You see the whole area a slightly out of focus and the viewfinder area clearly in focus and at the right corner of that area.
    The ergonomics is much better cause You do not stress the muscles of Your face having unsymmetrical state. No headaches or muscle pain..and many more reasons.
    But it is as important to hold the camera the right way. Always the same way – like a carpenter holds his hammer. Web gives a lot false instructions about the ergonomics like pressing the elbows tightly to Your body….never do it, elbows should hang freely and produce like a gimbal of flesh and bone.

    Huh, sorry for my bad english 🙁

  • Judy Gusick

    Interesting concept tho not real workable for left eye dominant folks like me! 😉

  • KC

    I’m left eye dominant and do it all the time. Actually it’s a throw back to medium and large format days.

    I do use one eye to precompose a scene before lifting the camera.

  • I’m also a left eye dominant photographer. You can do it!

  • Judy Gusick

    With my D7200 I’m looking at the camera with my right eye! ??? Thx

  • Judy Gusick

    Will give it a go……. Thx!

  • KC

    It’s a handy trick and it saves you from scrunching up your face. After a bit you “tune out” your right eye.

  • Judy Gusick

    Thx KC – I’ll work on it! 🙂

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