Rachael Andrews is a visually impaired photographer who first used a camera purely as a handy tool to help her see everyday objects such as food labels.
While her camera was initially a useful tool for Andrews to overcome the vision loss she suffered in her 20s, she quickly realized an artistic passion for photography.
Talk to PetaPixelBritish photographer Andrews, who has no useful sight in her left eye and no central vision in her right, explains how she goes about her photography job.
“My technique is to use manual focus, pre-focus on closest or very close to the lens, fill the viewfinder with what I want to shoot and cover the middle of the empty area in my central vision “, explains Andrews.
“I can sometimes move my eye to put the peripheral vision I still have in the center of the image to check what’s there, but not always.”
“It depends on the size of the subject, how bright it is, whether it’s moving or not, etc. Then, using maximum focus, I’ll move my eye around to get a sense of the scene – it’s a smear to this point without details – then I wait for the outline flash that confirms focus while I very slowly move the camera backwards or forwards, then I press the shutter.
Andrews will take hundreds of shots of the same scene in hopes that one of them will have the right focus, which she won’t find out until later during editing.
“Sometimes in the edit I notice something like an insect that I didn’t know was in the photo or some other element, and if I’m really lucky that extra bonus will have worked,” says- she.
“But just as often there might be a dog’s nose or tail, a random piece of foliage, or something else in sight that I didn’t notice at the time,” she continues. “I throw probably 98% of the shots. I could take 500 shots in one session of just a few things. I could never use film instead of digital – I’d be out of business within a week.
Andrews tends to take most of her photos in her backyard, as she knows the layout well. However, she also belongs to a group of photographers made up of visually impaired fellow photographers guided by sighted volunteers.
Assembly and equipment
When Andrews loads her images onto her computer, she studies each photograph with her face about four inches from the screen. By moving her head and eyes, she takes parts of the entire image and judges each part making editing decisions as she goes.
“I can’t really tell if the final image is sharp most of the time, so I use the default sharpening plugins if I feel something needs it and hopefully,” she says.
Andrews uses a 32-inch monitor and uses a combination of VoiceOver screen reader, on-screen magnification, and extremely large fonts to help him along.
Andrews, from Norwich, Norfolk, uses a Canon EOS R with a variety of mainly manual lenses.
“I particularly like vintage lenses and adapted projection lenses,” she explains.
“My two favorite lenses at the moment are a Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2.4 Flektogon and a really damn good Dallmeyer Max Lite projector lens that I stuck in an M42 helicoid and extension tubes with electrical tape.”
Flower food labels
Andrews, 49, favors macro shooting, especially flowers and insects. But unless a bug lands on her or casually wanders into her sights, she’s unlikely to know the creature is there. Andrews also takes photos of her guide dog, her retired guide dog and her husband’s guide dog.
Andrews has come a long way since buying a camera just so she could read labels on drug battles and so she could see her pet rats because she was no longer able to do so with her eyes alone. .
“Photographs of things don’t move, unlike some of these things in real life. That means I can have time to get a feel for the set after moving my eyes around the stage and doing a composite in my head if you want,” she says.
“Getting a digital camera was a purely practical solution to my vision loss at first, nothing more. I had no interest in photography before. But then I moved to a house with a flower garden. I’ve always loved flowers and being in nature, so it occurred to me that even though I couldn’t see many flowers in real life, I could take pictures and see them later” , she explains.
“And then I realized that I like to photograph these things as an artistic outlet rather than just ‘oh look, here’s a rose, so this is what this one really looks like. “”
Photography as liberation
Andrews is a disability rights activist working on legal cases that can be stressful. His camera work is therefore a great release.
“Photography helps me let go of all the daily problems and lose myself in the beauty of nature, which seems trivial but I find it extremely beneficial for my mental health.
“It’s hard on my eyes, arms and shoulders and often hurts, but I wouldn’t give up.”
More of Andrews’ work can be seen on his Facebook.
Picture credits: All photos by Rachael Andrews/Soft of Sight Photography.