A reader recently mentioned that she’s not happy with her photos, and she wasn’t sure whether their quality was due to poor eyesight or poor technique. She said her camera display is too small for her to check how good her photos are. This is especially challenging when checking focus!  Lucky for her, there are a few techniques to help – sharp photography with poor eyesight is definitely possible.

My eyesight is terrible too. I always wear some combination of glasses and contacts – without them, I’m not legal to drive. Usually, when I am taking photos, I only wear my contacts. But I can and do shoot while wearing my progressive glasses sometimes. I always take my sunglasses off when I shoot, mostly because they are old and scratched. 🙄

Below, I’ll share some techniques that I use to help me compensate for my bad vision, plus one tip that I don’t use (yet).

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Sharp Photography with Poor Eyesight: Control Your Zoom

This first tip is helpful for all of us who use the display on the back of the camera to check focus, no matter how good our eyes are. The thing about these displays is that they just aren’t large enough for anyone to check focus, not without zooming in.

And I bet that most of you know how to zoom in on a photo when looking at it on the back of your camera. But did you know that many cameras will allow you to control WHERE the camera zooms in to on the photo, and HOW MUCH it zooms?

sharp photography with poor eyesightMost cameras have a dedicated button that zooms in on images when in playback mode. If yours doesn’t, check your manual: there might be a way to assign a button to a “one-click zoom” when you are looking at photos.

My 6D lets me customize how much to zoom in when I press the zoom button. I haven’t found a way to do this on my Olympus OMD-EM5, however. Keep in mind that each camera is different; your camera manual should tell you whether these options are available for you. My options for zooming in are here:

sharp photography with poor eyesight

I have Actual Size (From Selected Point) selected. It zooms in directly on my focal point at 100% magnification. The other options zoom in to the center only – zooming into the center means you have to move around the photo to check whether it is sharp where you focused.

When I’m zoomed in to a photo, I can use the Main Dial to zoom in more or less. And the multi-controller lets me scroll to the previous or next photo, zoomed in to the same place. That’s very handy for checking focus on a series of images whose focal point is in approximately the same place. Here’s a reminder on which dial is which, for those of you who have similar cameras:

sharp photography with poor eyesight

You probably know this already, but the white box shows you how much of the photo you are seeing, and which part of the photo it is.

sharp photography with poor eyesight

I know that some of you shoot with the awesome red dot from this old tutorial that shows you what you focused on. I certainly do. But this red dot, as much as I love it, is not an infallible focus check.

Lenses focus for a specific distance, not for a specific person or object. If your subject moves directly backwards or forwards between the time you set focus and the time you shot, the red dot would be in the right place but the focus would be wrong.

The red dot is still useful, especially for subjects that don’t move. And it should turn off when you zoom in – otherwise, it would be hard to check focus.

Do I do zoom in for every shot I take? No way! I do, however, for very important shots. Especially still-life images: flowers, Craigslist postings, etc. It is also helpful when you take group shots and want to make sure all eyes are open and looking at the camera.

Sharp Photography with Poor Eyesight: Adjust Your Diopter

A diopter is a tool built into many cameras that allows you to adjust the appearance of what you see in your viewfinder. Have you ever noticed your viewfinder was blurry? Well, it could be dirty (mine is). Or it could also be that your diopter needs adjusting.

sharp photography with poor eyesight

The diopter is usually a small dial near the viewfinder. It often has a +/- sign next to it. To adjust it, take off your lens cap and point your lens at a plain surface. Adjust the diopter until the digital information that you see inside the viewfinder is as sharp as possible. Note that you aren’t making your subject look sharp – only the shooting information that the camera creates.

The diopter adjusts the viewfinder to work for your particular eye. Everyone will have different diopter settings.

Some people who wear glasses adjust the diopter to take the place of their glasses! Crazy, right? This allows them to take off their glasses but still see well inside the viewfinder.

Does the diopter change the way your camera focuses? No. The diopter only changes what you see when you look through the viewfinder. However, a properly adjusted diopter can give you good feedback as you assess your photo. If you aren’t focusing in the right place, it will be more obvious before you shoot if your diopter suits your eye.

You’ll probably need to adjust this dial every once in a while. It’s easy to jostle it inadvertently. I usually wonder how my contacts got dirty until I remember to adjust that diopter.


sharp photography with poor eyesight

Sharp Photography with Poor Eyesight: Extra Help

There are some photos where perfect focus is more important than others. Macro shooters, I’m thinking about you! And there are some eyes who need all the help they can get.

For these shooters, a magnifier can help immensely. Magnifiers built for camera displays have the added benefit of shielding the display from glare and making it easier to review photos on-camera in bright sunlight. Photographers wear them around their necks and place them over the camera display to check their photos. You can also attach them to your camera and shoot with them on – this is especially helpful if you don’t use the viewfinder when you shoot.

If you go to Amazon, there are various magnifiers you can buy, in a range of prices. I haven’t tried any of them. The difference in the models is related to how much magnification power they have and the quality of the magnification. And some of them, according to the reviews, fall off cameras more easily than others.

These magnifiers, by the way, have their own diopters. You can adjust them to your eyes needs just like you can adjust the camera’s viewfinder.

The name brand that the “fancy” photographers use is the HoodLoupe. (A loupe is a magnifier that photographers used to use to look at their film exposures, to help them determine which ones to print.) The HoodLoupe looks like this:

I can’t tell from the product documentation how much magnification that model has. However, this Matin Magnifier has good reviews, costs less, and zooms in up to two times.

For me, this would be a cumbersome addition to my routine. But if (when?) my eyes get worse, I am pretty sure I could get used to it.

So those are my tips for sharp photography with poor eyesight. What tips have you learned that help you? Share them in the comments below.

This tutorial comes, in part, from my Guided 365, the photo-lesson-a-day 365 project. Want to join the next time it opens for registration? Add your name to the waiting list here!


Tips for Photographers with Poor Eyesight - It is absolutely possible to take sharp photos even if your eyesight is, ummm, aging. Tweak your camera settings to work for your vision.