Last Updated on May 7, 2023 by Photography PX
Most of us know that we have a dominant hand for most tasks, especially writing or throwing. But did you know that you also have a dominant eye? And, strangely, your dominant eye may or may not be the one you’re using right now to look in your camera’s viewfinder.
But, it turns out our eyes aren’t equal, even though we see the world through them both. No. One of them leads our vision and offers most of the input into how we perceive the world.
Still, eye dominance isn’t a topic that comes up frequently in the real world unless you’re looking through single-lens optics, like telescopes and gun sights. But, as photographers, we rely on the viewfinder, a single lens optic, every day. Yet, most photographers aren’t aware of their dominant eye and are likely using the non-dominant weaker eye to photograph.
And that’s a small decision that’s holding you back and causing unnecessary stress.
Thankfully, figuring out your dominant eye is quite an easy task. And it’s a straightforward change that will benefit you in several activities in sports and athletics. But, crucially, it’ll help your photography.
In this post, we’ll cover the details of eye dominance, how to test it, and why it matters to photography.
Table of Contents
What Is a Dominant Eye?
Most people discover whether they’re right or left-handed early in life, and we all favor one hand over another. Our dominant hands give us more precision, better coordination, and more strength. While many of us find our non-dominant hand slightly difficult, slow, and tedious to use. So, it’s no surprise that our dominant hand becomes our go-to for most activities with time.
In fact, you’re likely using it right now.
You may also be surprised to know the same thing also happens with our legs and feet. And if you are an athlete, you may have already noticed one leg is more dominant than the other.
Yet, something similar also happens with our eyes.
Technically speaking, a dominant eye, sometimes called the Leading Eye or referred to generally as Ocular Dominance or “Eyedness,” is our tendency to rely on one eye more than the other. And this happens because our dominant eye relays the most input to the brain’s visual cortex, letting it produce more accurate information about the spatial positioning of objects in our visual field.
Here’s a quick test of this in action. Focus on a distant subject in front of you. Now alternate closing each of your eyes. Did you notice that the object appears to move slightly when switching eyes?
This is the phenomenon of Ocular Dominance in action.
How the Dominant Eye Influences Us
So the next question is, how does Ocular Dominance impact how we see the world? Well, simply put, our dominant eye helps determine our eye coordination by accurately positioning objects in our visual field. And while some think the dominant eye has better vision, that’s not always the case since vision varies from person to person. Instead, it affects the positioning of objects in our visual field of view.
As humans, we see with binocular vision, and we use two eyes to create a three-dimensional image. But since our eyes are separated, there’s a viewing error between them, which we call a Parallax Error. Parallax Error describes the displacement of objects that happens based on which eye we use. Because of this distance, each eye sees slightly different images, points of view, and has somewhat different depth perception.
To compensate for this, our brains rely on our dominant eye to determine the true location of objects around us since it relays the most accurate information. Of course, our other eye still works, but it only offers secondary information to give us better depth perception and more details on relative distances. But using our non-dominant eye alone would cause us to misinterpret the location of objects, which could potentially injure or kill us.
For this reason, in most medical treatments, physicians depend on the dominant eye for corrections like contact lenses and glasses or optical surgery.
Benefits of Using Your Dominant Eye
Now that we know how ocular dominance impacts how we see the world, how can we put these effects to use?
Well, using your dominant eye is beneficial in many activities when you have to determine the precise location of things, say competitive shooting, archery, football, and many other sports. But thankfully, just like these athletes, photographers can also use it to make their images better.
Better Framing and Compositions
The most direct way to improve your photography is by using your dominant eye when looking through the viewfinder and composing a photo. Doing so will help you create better compositions with more accurate framing. The reasoning is that eye provides more accurate information about the position of subjects in our visual field. And it’s the basis for how we create the visual field altogether.
If you’re a landscape, street, or journalism photographer, you’ll find yourself wanting compositions with particular framing. In these situations, you’ll want as much accuracy as you can get. So using your dominant eye is best, as your non-dominant eye would cause your subject to be slightly off-center and not exactly where you intended them, resulting in framing that’s not as accurate.
And that could be a real problem if you’re going for something particular such as leaving lines, the rule of thirds, or the golden ratio.
You Can See Around You
Another benefit is that when using your dominant eye, you’ll quickly realize you won’t have to close your other eye while composing a photo. At first, it may seem unnatural to leave both eyes open, but there are massive benefits when you get accustomed to it.
Namely, you can observe the scene around you with your other eye, which is great to see what’s happening outside your camera’s frame. Are distracting people entering your location? Or is there an exciting subject getting closer to your point of interest? This technique is essential for street and photojournalism photographers.
Of course, many images online of photographers usually feature them closing an eye, and this concept is deeply ingrained into many of us. But, the reality is that you can keep both eyes open.
Using your dominant eye also makes photography less visually stressful and exhausting since your eyes don’t have to re-adjust constantly from pure darkness to ambient light. So no more experiencing fatigue by closing your eyes for prolonged periods.
This isn’t conclusively evidence-based, but you may notice more details when composing or focusing the photograph. Everyone’s vision is different, so the effect is likely minimal. But, if you notice there’s an advantage, you may as well take it.
How to Figure Out Your Dominant Eye
Do you find yourself having to close one eye when looking through the viewfinder? Then it’s likely you’re using your non-dominant eye. If you switch to your dominant eye instead, you should have no problems leaving both eyes open and still composing a photograph.
Below are two sighting tests to determine your dominant eye. Both are quite easy and don’t require special equipment or specific knowledge. In fact, you can perform these tests right now if you have the time. And either is great to help determine which eye is best to compose using your camera’s viewfinder.
So even though a population study suggests that 90% of all people are right-handed. Only 67% of the participants sampled were also right-eye dominant. Therefore you must take the time to test your ocular dominance to have a conclusive idea of which eye is best. Otherwise, you’re still guessing since we can’t predict it through hand tendencies alone.
The first test is called the Miles Test. Here are the steps.
- Extend your arms out in front of you with your palms facing out.
- Bring your hands together to form a small triangle between your index finger and thumbs.
- With both eyes, focus on a distant object through the center hole and make sure you tightly frame the object.
- Now close your left eye. And answer this question: does the object in the center hole move out of view? If it does, your right eye is dominant. If it doesn’t, your left eye is dominant.
- To double-check, look at the object again using both eyes.
- Now close your left eye instead. Again, answer this question: does the object in the center move out of view? If it does, your left eye is dominant.
Here’s the second sighting test.
- Extend one of your arms out with your thumb in an upright position (think thumbs up).
- Keeping both eyes open, focus on a distant object.
- Next, superimpose your thumb over that object. Don’t worry if it looks like your thumb disappears temporarily. That’s normal.
- Now, close your left eye. And answer this question: does the object move away from your thumb? If it does, your left eye is dominant. If it doesn’t, your right eye is dominant.
It’s important to point out that Ocular Dominance ranges on a spectrum, and it varies from person to person. So it’s possible after doing these exercises, you realize you don’t have a dominant eye. But that’s very uncommon, where only roughly 1% of the population falls into that group.
Instead, you may have likely noticed that the visual target is not perfectly aligned with either test. And that means you have mixed or Alternating Ocular Dominance, meaning each of your eyes performs different duties. So one eye is probably dominant for certain tasks or functions while the other eye is dominant for others. Another option is that you have a very small degree of variance between both eyes, so your dominant eye is only slightly preferred.
Is it possible to change your dominant eye?
Yes, you can change your ocular dominance to some degree. But it’s important to point out that this tendency is hardwired into our brain’s visual cortex. The visual cortex is the brain area that processes visual information. Some researchers believe that nerve cells in this area can overlap, and there’s some plasticity here, which suggests that ocular dominance is variable for some individuals.
But, at a minimum, you can train yourself to become more comfortable using your non-dominant eye. And one of the primary means of doing so is by wearing an eyepatch, which forcefully relaxes your dominant eye. Now your brain can focus solely on the weaker eye. And with time, you’ll adapt and become more reliant on it.
Benefits of Using Your Non-Dominant Eye
Using your non-dominant eye offers a key advantage for those shooting street or journalism photography. By composing with your non-dominant eye, you can use your dominant eye to maintain your peripheral vision or track moving subjects. You can also do so with outstanding clarity and accuracy.
Most people cannot maintain accurate peripheral vision with their non-dominant eyes. So this becomes a way to bypass that limitation. And it’s a valuable technique if you’re looking to photograph a particular subject approaching nearby, as you can watch your surroundings and refine the composition simultaneously.
Tips on Improving Eye Health
We spent a good majority of our days behind a screen, be it on computers or mobile devices. But, as you age, your eyes lose elasticity, and our focusing abilities tend to slow and worsen with time. The result is that many photographers have greater difficulty focusing their cameras with age.
An excellent technique to regain elasticity in your eyes is by alternatively focusing on a nearby then a distant object. This technique is particularly important if you’re working on a computer, as looking at a monitor at the same distance is quite exhausting for our eyes. Locking our eyes at such a short distance is unnatural, and it causes enormous visual stress.
So to reduce the stress, take short breaks and focus on objects that are off in the distance. You can do this by looking at objects around your room or looking out a window or hallway. But, the further you can focus, the better.
In the end, knowing which of your eyes is more dominant will ensure that you’ll accurately gauge the camera’s focus and create the best compositions. Of course, there are situations where using your non-dominant eye will become helpful in taking photos, such as street and journalism photography. And it can indeed guarantee you anticipate a moment before it happens. But for most photographers, the dominant eye will ensure you create the best images possible.
I find it interesting that athletics and sports like shooting, archery, or football, Ocular Dominance is a crucial skill that trainers emphasize to improve the athlete’s vision. Yet, in photography, it’s an overlooked subject entirely.
Unfortunately, it’s possible you learned photography using your non-dominant eye and have stuck with it since. So hopefully, you didn’t realize by the end of this article you’ve been composing the wrong way and struggling this entire time with framing or focusing your camera. But, at least if that’s the case, now you have some insight and some certainty on how you can harness your true visual power.