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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.