Time to be with your loved ones

Time to be with loved ones

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Greg made an intriguing comment in this answer (emphasis mine):

One of the things we're supposed to do when we're shooting is keep both eyes open; That helps avoid fatigue from shooting for hours, but also lets us see what is going on around us. That is smart in case good action is happening to the side. It's also good because you might need to be aware of an unsafe condition unfolding while you're shooting.

I've noticed that my eyes go a bit wonky after shooting with only one open, so this is an interesting idea. I'd never heard of it until now.

My main question is: how do you train yourself to do it?

Also: are there any other advantages? How prevalent is this among photographers?

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Oh... and can anyone else not get Metallica out of their head? –  Craig Walker Feb 15 '11 at 6:17
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My bigger concern is that, as a left hander, I find it irritating that an SLR can only be used in a right handed stance. It is nearly as bad as trying to shoot left handed with a bolt action rifle. –  labnut Feb 15 '11 at 7:23
    
I've always shot both eyes open. The reason is, though, that I find it quite difficult to close only my right eye and impossible to close my left; and I usually shoot with my right eye on the viewfinder. I just don't know what muscles to use (it's a weird feeling, believe me). –  koiyu Feb 15 '11 at 10:00
    
Learn to shoot with bow and arrows, there you need to have both eyes open too (short answer: you still have your 3D-view, which helps). (Fortunately I'm left-eyed although I'm left-handed.) –  Leonidas Feb 15 '11 at 12:08
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Voting to migrate to firearms.stackexchange.com –  Pekka 웃 Feb 15 '11 at 15:55
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5 Answers

up vote 48 down vote accepted

One of my professors years ago came from a photojournalism background and really drilled the 'both eyes open' ethos into our heads... and when I say drilled, I mean he would have us doing literal drills in order to get our minds around the idea and eliminate the 'bad habit' of closing one eye as soon as we put the viewfinder to our eye.

What he had us do started out pretty simple... Over the course of a quarter the progression went something like this:

  1. Initially we just sat in the studio/classroom and practiced putting the camera to our eyes but NOT closing the opposing eye... I don't mean that we did that a few times... I think we spent 3 or 4 entire class sessions (the equivalent of nearly 3 or 4 hours) on the task. This was all about muscle memory, and in many ways it seemed very similar to the sorts of drills you'd see soldiers doing in boot camp as they learned to raise and aim their weapons with control and speed.
  2. The next thing he had us do was close our viewfinder eye and do all our aiming with the eye that wasn't looking through the viewfinder. We must have spent a week on that alone, and it felt really strange at first, but it really trained us to not simply ignore the 'non-viewfinder' eye as soon as the camera is up in our face.
  3. Then we practiced aiming our shots with the non-viewfinder eye with both eyes open. It's really interesting to feel yourself mentally shift focus from one eye to the other, and after a bit it became an almost instant and unconscious action... Ultimately, that was really his point in having us do this exercise (and all of them, really).
  4. After that we spent weeks out on the quad taking pictures of people. He'd let us kinda be doing our own thing and then randomly he'd shout out to 'take a picture of the guy in the green hoodie' (or whatever the student he happened to be looking at was wearing). The instinct for most of us at first was to pull the camera away from our faces and look around for the person he was talking about... But over time we got good at swiveling around with our eyes up to the viewfinder and both eyes open searching for the photograph but never removing the camera from our eye... I'm sure it was quite a sight to see 25 photographers all simultaneously turn wherever they were and take a picture of a person. Later I found out that he actually recruited people to walk the quad during our classes, which I suppose makes sense in terms of not scaring random people walking to their classes. :-)
  5. Finally, the thing he had us work on was putting it all together, that is getting to a point where we were composing shots well on the fly, never removing the camera from our eye, essentially using our 'free' eye to find the next shot while we were still working on the current one with our viewfinder eye.

So that was the progression of drills he took us through, and it's a progression of drills that I still use with my own photography students (and I still drill myself... Mostly when I add a piece of new gear, a lens, or a new camera body). In terms of the advantages, certainly there's less fatigue in not having to shut one eye, but I think the real advantage is in having situational awareness and the muscle memory to compose photographs happening around you very quickly and in a precise way. There are plenty of wedding photographs that I take 'on the fly' that I almost don't remember taking because I'm moving around the setting with both eyes so quickly, composing as I go, and capturing the moments...

As an aside, all of this is made easier with the control that back-button focus gives the photographer, and I 'never leave home without it.' :-)

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Wow, that is an interesting concept, I'm going to give that a go. –  LC1983 Feb 15 '11 at 12:23
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Do you only use short lenses? I can't see past the lens barrel in the lower-right corner to frame precisely enough. –  Itai Apr 5 '11 at 19:15
    
why is back button focus an advantage here? –  Michael Nielsen May 29 '13 at 16:45
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This is an idea borrowed from the world of target shooting where precision and observation are of paramount importance.

The same concerns are far less important in photography and it is probably more important to do what you find natural and comfortable.

Some of the reasons given for two eyed shooting are
- facial muscles are more relaxed which improves vision and reduces fatigue
- less variation in apparent brightness as your brain receives signals from both eyes
- the closed eye does not have to re-adjust after being opened
- you can see more around you.

The main counter-argument is that by closing the off eye you are wholly entering the scene. This is important as it allows you to better visualize the end result. The final photograph will, after all, be free of the distracting elements that your open eye would see.

The main argument for two eyed shooting applies in scenes with quick change where you need to rapidly recompose, for example sports. In this case it is important to remain aware of events outside the viewfinder.

Another important reason for using two eyed shooting is in hazardous situations where you really need to be aware of your environment

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Note that competition shooters usually use an occluded lens on the disengaged eye of their shooting glasses. And some time after I joined the military, standard marksmanship instructions were modified to include the phrase "close the disengaged eye" -- at about the time that optical (rather than open iron) sights became the norm. The practicality of two-eyed shooting depends a lot on the magnification factor of the whole viewfinding apparatus (objective lens and viewfinder lens) -- if it's either a good match for reality or a really bad match, it's easy. Close but no cigar is disorienting. –  user2719 Feb 15 '11 at 8:10
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This is one ability that I brought from target shooting too photography. Another useful one is the ability to hold the camera really really still. :) –  Guffa Feb 15 '11 at 8:16
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I've heard the same reasoning in the army and if someone couldn't shoot both eyes open they made an eyepatch out of cardboard to be tuck under the helmet. The most stressed reason, though, was to allow both eyes breathe and let the air flow. Hence the eyepatch: vision could be blocked, but still the air could flow. –  koiyu Feb 15 '11 at 10:08
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+1 for the last sentence. Having shot pro-rodeo from inside the arena for many years, having both eyes open kept me out of a lot of trouble. –  Greg Apr 6 '11 at 7:31
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This becomes invaluable for wildlife and bird photography with long telephoto lenses. With both eyes open I study what part of the frame in the viewfinder is also seen in my other open eye, in relation to the end of the lens seen by my naked-eye. Imaging that now "virtual viewfinder" floating out in front of the camera in my mind's-eye. I am able to swiftly follow a fast bird in flight using the eye not in the viewfinder and judge rather accurately when it is fully centered in the viewfinder just by how far it is and in what direction it is from from a spot on the edge of the lens. In the event the bird settles to a perch or another one is noticed sitting still, I then swiftly locate it with the naked-eye, and then quickly and more accurately frame it in the viewfinder.

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Keeping both eyes open is common practice for biologists and others who peer through microscopes. (Especially, of course for binocular microscopes, but I'm talking about the one-eyepiece kind.) I learned that as a kid watching tiny pond water creatures.

This is also recommended in astronomy, where amateur comet hunters and galaxy gazers spend prolonged times looking through telescopes, precisely to reduce eye fatigue.

I haven't paid attention to whether I actually shoot with my camera one-eyed or not, but it seems natural enough to me. Besides being tiring to the eyes, squinting with one eye closed = muscle tension in my face and maybe therefore a jiggly shot. I try to be relaxed when I press the shutter. There's also the advantage of watching my subject directly with one eye while maintaining good framing in the viewfinder with the other.

However odd it may feel at first for someone who's never done it before, it's just a matter of (not much) practice.

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Both eyes open works for me with a Leica rangefinder, the 0.97.magnification viewfinder M3 especially, and was brilliant on a borrowed, clunky old Soviet-made Zenit SLR with a 58mm prime where the combination gave a perfect 1:1 magnification in the viewfinder, but for general SLR use it's a no go for me. The view through the lens is just too different from what the left eye sees for me.

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