If its a nice sunny day, I want to get out and about with my camera. But I also want to wear sunglasses.

So does wearing dark sunglasses affect taking photos? How do you judge the correct exposure if everything looks darker? Does it depend on whether you are using an optical viewfinder, electronic viewfinder or the LCD screen on the camera?

What about sunglasses with polarised lenses? What happens if you are using a polarising filter on the camera, would the polarising effects combine in some way?

Or tinted coloured sunglasses, would they make the colours look strange on the camera?


Note: I don't wear corrective glasses. When I read the question, corrective lenses didn't occur to me. This answer was written only with sunglasses in mind.

It doesn't affect the taking of photos, if you're using your camera's autoexposure. The camera will decide what correct exposure is. And really, your eyes aren't very good light meters anyway. You wouldn't trust your unaided eye to determine exposure. Rather, you have a mental model of what a scene will probably expose at, based on your experience and knowledge of photography. For instance, you'll probably know that a typical outdoor scene at midday under the bright sun, without lots of shadows and complications, will probably meter according to the Sunny 16 rule.

If you're wearing tinted glasses, you might see certain colors more prominently than others, literally coloring your perception. Those colors won't come out the same in camera as you expected.

Similarly, with polarized glasses, you might see something that camera won't, such as deeper blue skies, or perhaps clearer water in a stream or lake.

When it comes to reviewing your shots on your camera's LCD, depending on your glasses, you'll have the following issues:

  • For polarized glasses, they might interfere with the polarization of the liquid crystals in the screen. This would cause a darkening, or possible complete blackout, of the screen. This is immediately apparent if you rotate the camera 90°, it will either improve the situation, or make it worse.

  • For tinted glasses, they will alter the apparent colors on the LCD screen. Depending on the amount of tint, this could make certain colors really pop out, or make some colors darker.

  • For neutral tint glasses that just make everything a darker without imposing a color cast, the LCD won't appear any different from the rest of your vision. These glasses are exactly the same as adding a neutral density filter to your eyes. If you're trying to look at the LCD screen under bright sunlight, it will be washed out and lack contrast, whether or not you are wearing these glasses.

But luckily, for all of the issues described above, there's a very simple solution: take the glasses off.

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  • I have to wear varifocals, but I'd be loath to wear tinted or polarized glasses doing photography - it just distances me from what light is reaching the camera, making it harder to judge composition and the color of a scene. But YMMV as the saying goes. – StephenG May 28 '17 at 13:05
  • @StephenG yeah, I was only thinking about sunglasses. Corrective lenses just didn't occur to me. I feel a bit stupid about the oversight... – scottbb May 28 '17 at 13:15
  • Oh, no reason to feel stupid. I just added the comment to explain how "hostile" I feel about putting any extra effects between me and the light when I'm trying to do photography. Of course without the varifocals I'd be tripping up all the time and other minor details, so no choice there. For bright sunlight the most I'd use would be a hat to keep the my eyes shaded, but that's it. It's a personal choice, but I find sunglasses or tinted glasses just create too much interference for me. – StephenG May 28 '17 at 13:40
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    FWIW, if you've been wearing lightly tinted glasses for awhile before grabbing the camera, might as well leave them on. Your brain will have adjusted and if you take them off your color perception will be off again. – whatsisname May 29 '17 at 18:08

So does wearing dark sunglasses affect taking photos?

Not really, it just affects what you see when you are taking photos. It doesn't affect what the camera sees at all.

How do you judge the correct exposure if everything looks darker?

Before the shot: By using the camera's light meter and a knowledge of how whatever metering mode selected will affect the metering of the scene in front of the camera. Or alternately, by setting exposure to a known value when previous experience with the same scene (i.e. a particular place at a particular time of day with the same lighting conditions) allows one to already know the proper exposure.

After the shot: By using the histogram, rather than how bright the LCD screen is (or isn't), to judge exposure.

Does it depend on whether you are using an optical viewfinder, electronic viewfinder or the LCD screen on the camera?

That depends on what "it" is.

If "it" is the camera's perception/recording of the scene the answer is "no."

If "it" is your perception of the scene the answer is "maybe." Any type of glasses will increase the distance between your eye and a viewfinder but shouldn't affect the distance between your eyes and the LCD screen. Sunglasses will also make your perception of the scene itself as well as the scene as seen in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen darker and most probably color shifted as well. But in bright sunlight most LCD screens can't be seen very well even if one is not wearing sunglasses.

What about sunglasses with polarised lenses?

Again, they won't affect what the camera sees but will affect what you see, both in regards to the actual scene and in regards to any LCD generated image. Because the light from most LCD screens is polarized in a particular direction, your polarized sunglasses may interfere with your ability to see the LCD screen properly. Military and commercial pilots had to move from wearing polarized to non-polarized sunglasses while flying when many of the displays in cockpits became based on LCD screens.

What happens if you are using a polarising filter on the camera, would the polarising effects combine in some way?

Again, for the camera, no. For you, most likely.

Or tinted coloured sunglasses, would they make the colours look strange on the camera?

For the way the camera records the scene, "no." For the way you perceive the recorded image when displayed on the camera's LCD, "most likely." The degree to which your perception will be affected depends on the exact tint of the sunglasses lenses.

This would only be a real issue if you are shooting straight to JPEG or other raster image format where the color temperature and white balance is "baked in." If you are shooting raw then the color can be completely altered later with no loss of image quality. The preview image you see on the camera's LCD would have the color baked in, but the actual raw data contains the information from the sensor before color temperature/white balance is set.

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  • I believe the light will get de-polarized when it hits the ground glass screen, so polarization most likely won't add up. – ths May 29 '17 at 15:55
  • @ths Two of the three viewing options mentioned in the question do not involve a ground glass screen. – Michael C May 30 '17 at 5:13
  • Well i presupposed that no one would believe polarization from a filter survives being displayed electronically. – ths May 30 '17 at 6:52
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    But polarization created by the LCD screen or EVF is there, whether or not a polarizer filter was used on the camera. Polarization by the glasses will also occur when the photographer looks directly at the scene. – Michael C May 30 '17 at 6:53

More an anecdote with a 'moral' than an answer, as I feel it could be entirely opinion-based...

Before the days of DSLR when I just had a phone, I used to hold one sunglass lens over the camera lens to see what it would do to the picture; that would give me a clue as to what they were doing to my eyes too.

Sometimes I did actually take the picture whilst the camera was 'wearing sunglasses'
A nice warming filter & polariser could bring interesting things out from an otherwise too-harsh sunny day shot, especially if there was water to contend with.

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