When a brain tumor caused professional photographer Alex Dejong to lose his eyesight three years ago, he turned to gadgets to continue making his art.
Carrying around a Nokia N82 cellphone, Dejong used assistive software to translate sounds into visuals in his mind. After stitching together a mental image of his surroundings, he snapped photos with his Canon and Leica digital cameras.
But Dejong’s blindness is acute: He can only perceive light and dark. Because Dejong could not see his own photographs, he hired an assistant for editing. Until recently, editing was a part of the creative workflow that he thought he’d lost forever. And then to his surprise, Apple’s iPhone 3GS, which launched late June, gave him back the ability to edit photos.
The new iPhone has a feature called VoiceOver, which reads back anything a user places his finger over on the screen: e-mail, web pages, system preferences and so on. Beyond that, photo-editing applications such as CameraBag and Tilt-Shift perform automated editing tasks that blind users like Dejong could not otherwise do on their own.
“With the iPhone and a lot of the photography apps that a lot of people are using, I have my entire workflow, and I can do it in five minutes,” Dejong said. “In this way, the iPhone is a remarkable gift. I’ve had it for three weeks now, and it has really opened up my world, apart from the photography.”
Dejong is part of an online community called Blind Photographers, where similarly handicapped shutterbugs share their work and photography tips. Because blindness is variable from person to person, the shooters each develop a different methodology to suit their visual impairment, said Tim O’Brien, a member of the organization and a freelance newspaper photographer for Chapel Hill News.
After the necessary preparation, O’Brien snaps photos with his Nikon D40X DSLR and applies edits with the image application Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. His photography process, then, is not much different from a non-handicapped shooter. He just takes much longer than most digital shooters — about as long as a photographer using film, he says.
“I can’t tell if the camera is in focus, or any of the details,” O’Brien explained. “I’ll go home and find lots of interesting things that I didn’t know that I had. That’s not dissimilar to how photographers worked in the film days, when they didn’t know what their camera took until they developed film.”