Practice makes us perfect. We are told from a very young age that the more we practice a certain skill, the better we get at it. But what if in the process of practicing the art, we do or have to do something that is NOT good for our mental or physical self?
Is that beneficial?
Should we keep on practicing then and wait for the bad repercussions to come along?
How do we settle this conundrum?
Something that fits the context above is happening to us photographers now.
Out Of The Dark
The word ‘photography’ today is synonymous with ‘digital photography’. NO, I am not saying that shooting with traditional film is dead and no one uses them anymore but you do have to agree that the proportion of film shooters have come down quite significantly in the last few decades.
And the word ‘digital’ quite directly means that nothing is recorded in any physical form anymore. Instead, some form of virtual memory is used.
Like in the early days, photography is no longer contained within the dark room where images were developed. Pretty much the entire process of capturing through printing is now computer based. This means more ‘screen time’. That is you looking into some form of a digital monitor.
You take an image and look at the LCD behind the camera; come back home; transfer the images onto the computer; then process them; work out the kinks; and finally get them ready to be printed or may be published digitally. All this time looking at some form of a screen which is not very good for your eyes.
It gets worse.
It is estimated that an average smartphone and computer user looks at a screen for about 8 to 10 hours a day. The number mounts up even further if you also happen to be in a profession which requires you to use a computer for your day job. And I don’t think I need to tell you any more about the epidemic that is cellphones these days.
Now if I consider a normal sleep duration of about 7 hours each day. 10 hours in a 17hour period when you are awake is almost a whopping 60% of the time. That is a lot of pixels buddy!
What do we do now? Shoot fewer images? Less often? How do we get perfect if we can’t even practice?
Knowledge Is The Key
There isn’t a way that I can find right now to immediately replace our computers. We photographers would need it for the foreseeable future. And we need to keep shooting too!
So if we cannot fight it may be the best course to follow is to find a way to minimize the damage and maybe doing some form of building back what we lose.
Let get to the brass tacks of the topic now.
Reduce Screen Time
No, you are not going to go blind if you keep staring at your computer for so long. However, it may cause other discomforts such as dry eyes, itchiness, redness, watery eyes, etc. All of them can be classified under the Computer Vision Syndrome or Digital Eye Strain.
Prevention is better than cure.
The first and the most effective way of reducing eye strain is to use reduce the time spent looking at a screen. There are many instances where we just keep looking at the screen even when we are not required to. Like when dumping images from a large SD memory card to the computer.
It is going to take a while right? Why not use it to rest your eyes?
I know it seems incredibly minuscule but trust me it does all add up. 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there and before the day ends maybe you can knock off almost an hour of your onscreen time. That is a lot of rest and respite for your eyes.
Quit looking at the computer whenever you are not actively needed to run some processes. You don’t have to physically get out of the chair, just look away. Common examples are: when rendering videos, downloading large files from the Internet (no it doesn’t need your moral support for faster downloads).
Save yourself some eye fatigue.
20 Twenty 20 Rule
I guess you already know about this method.
It is a basic rule of thumb which asks you to look away at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes you look at a digital display. I have combined this method with a little green rule I got. I have set up my computer and chair near a window in my room. Right outside there is a lush green field and some trees. So every 20 minutes or so I take a break and look outside. Surprisingly enough it has helped me a lot.
It also helps me divert my mind and keep it energized for the tasks ahead.
It takes a lot of effort to focus on something that is near you. Your eyes have to work really hard to do it. In case you are wondering, yes it is equally true for ANYTHING even if it is not a computer screen. A typewriter, a paper, a book all have the same effect on your eyes.
For a person living in a city, this is probably something that you should do even if you are not a photographer. Think about it, there is seldom a chance to look at something which is more than a few feet away.
Try it, doesn’t cost you anything. Look at something far away, as far as you can see.
Whenever we do something very intently the first thing that we forget to do is blink. This is true for the present context as well. Our eyes need to keep moist in order to function properly. Not blinking as much as you should results in drying out your eyes leading to other secondary eye-related problems.
Eye drops specifically made to preserve the moisture content of your eyes are available in the market. Use them as prescribed.
I know what you are thinking. I don’t need the drops, I will just remember to blink more often. Trust me you are not going to remember anything. Just like breathing, you don’t blink consciously. Your body takes care of it on its own. Just take the drops; it is a much better and surer way of doing it.
The basic premise is to just to make it as easy as possible for your eyes to work.
Use larger fonts whenever possible and crank up the contrast. The more discernible things are on the screen, easier it is for your eyes to capture it. Do not let direct sunlight or some harsh overhead light hit the monitor.
Maintain an arm’s distance (25 inches) from the monitor. Place it below your eye level, so that you are looking down at it (at roughly 20 degrees angle).
All digital screens emit blue light. In itself, it is not as bad as it sounds. Just that it suppresses melatonin, a hormone produced by our bodies which regulates wakefulness.
Blue light isn’t something evil found only in man-made computer screens. It is also found in nature, in sunlight. The blue light in sunlight is what triggers our body to tone down the production of melatonin and help us wake up from sleep.
Now the problem with an artificial source of blue light is that it has no fixed timings. The sun rises and sets at a specific time every day. Evolution has synced up our sleep cycles with the sun. But nothing regulates the period of time we use our electronic gadgets.
We keep using them till late at night and our body feels, thanks to the blue light it emits as if it is still sunny outside. This, in turn, keeps us awake and hampers our normal sleep cycles and also its quality.
Stop using any such electronic screens like your TV, laptop or cell phone at least an and a half hour before you intend to go to sleep. Dim the light in your room and if possible turn them a little warmer. This makes the body prepare to go to sleep. You can read the book during this period if you want.
Just avoid screens.
This is something that I came up with. Since it is kinda my job to look at screens for really long hours, I figured I should go the extra mile to ensure that my eyes are protected well.
It is a fairly easy recipe.
Just grate a whole cucumber in a bowl. Get all the juices out. Now make two small discs of cotton (about 4inches in diameter). Dip them in the cucumber juice. Once they have absorbed most of the liquid, lie down on your back and lightly place the cotton discs on your eyes. Press them slightly so that they are just touching your eyelids.
Keep them on for 5 mins and then turn them over. Repeat this every night, if possible.
It is a simple 10 mins routine.
Another simple daily routine to follow is just splash water on your eyes (closed) 50 to 100 hundred times every day. A good time to do this is after you have finished brushing your teeth in the morning and before you go to sleep at night.
And if you don’t brush your teeth twice every day….give me your mom’s phone number and let me just give her a call.
Just close your eyes for a minute and feel the darkness it brings with it. Doesn’t it feel so helpless?
Our eyes are a gift. I believe it with all my heart and soul. Just think of it. Most of our high-end digital cameras overheat if we use them continuously for long. And here we have a pair of the most amazing cameras which work for us tirelessly every day and yet we fail to even acknowledge them.
Take a minute out and care for them. Being a photographer you should preserve the two best cameras you will ever have. That seems logical, doesn’t it?
I am eternally grateful for my eyes and if you are too, show them some love. They will pay you back so much more.
Keep shooting beautiful.
This is now a teeny tiny blog trying to compete with the big guys. If you liked what you read, please take a second to share it. It would help me a lot. Thank you.