Home Opinion Dominant Eye and Focus: Are you are righteyed or lefteyed?

Dominant Eye and Focus: Are you are righteyed or lefteyed?

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  Image Mike Evans
Image Mike Evans

Rangefinder and retro-digital photographers work on the received wisdom that one should focus with the right eye, thus allowing the redundant left to eyeball the surroundings. It’s something I’ve been aware of for years but, try as I might, I just don’t seem to be able to use my right eye. Part of it is the comfort and stability I get by holding the camera to my face as I squint through the viewfinder with my left eye. As a result, however, my right eye sees nothing except the back of the camera.

Is this something that comes natural to me or is it the result of habit? I’ve tried many times to use my left eye but I soon forget and bring the camera to my left eye, probably by force of habit. 

After reading about the dominant eye concept — something which came to my attention rather late in life, long after I had become accustomed to using a rangefinder — I decided that I am one of the 33% of humans who are left-eye dominant, simply because the left seems to be my eye of preference. Focusing from the left was therefore preordained and I could do nothing about it. 

  Framing the picture: Left-eye dominance, as above, has the disadvantage that the right-eye is hidden behind the camera. On the other hand, it can promote greater stability since the camera is held close to the face
Framing the picture: Left-eye dominance, as above, has the disadvantage that the right-eye is hidden behind the camera. On the other hand, it can promote greater stability since the camera is held close to the face

When it comes to handedness, the right is even more dominant, with percentages ranging from 70 up to as high as 95 percent. But there is no evidence to suggest that right-handed people are also right-eye dominant. In fact, there is no real correlation. A small percentage of humans — some say as little as one percent — are ambidextrous. And a very small number of people have no dominant eye — that is, ambiocular. 

I was therefore interested to read about eye dominance in an FStoppers article written by Michael B. Stuart, particularly noting the fact that many photographers have developed a habit of focusing with the non dominant eye. It happens a lot, apparently, but then habit takes over and we could be missing out by framing our pictures with the lazy eye. 

Superficial research produced lots of advice, much in the form of short videos, on how to determine “eyedness”. Was I, I wondered, naturally left-eye dominant (I am right handed, by the way), or just bluffing myself into preferring my left-eye for camera focus. Would I see the world in a better light if I were right-eyed and started using this eye for focus?

The video below is one of many on the same theme. But I chose this because it is produced by an archery expert, and archery does need a good eye for the target. 

Doing this little experiment is rather harder than it looks in the videos. But once I had got the hang of it and focused on an ideal subject sufficiently far away I came to the conclusion that I am among the left-eye-dominant minority. It did come as something of a surprise, I have to say. All these years I have been telling myself that the reason I focus with my left eye is because it was just a matter habit and that I could change over if I persevered, if I really wanted to. It seems, however, that my habit does have a good foundation. It is what comes natural.

Although I really would like to be able to focus with my right eye, in common with most photographers I know — able to enjoy the benefits of a roving left eye to check surroundings —I fear I am doomed to continue with my left-eyed habit. After all, there isn’t much point in changing if I then see an inferior image.

Do you know which of your eyes is dominant? And do you naturally use that eye for camera focus?

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting topic as my left eye is dominant and also the better one, yet I alway use my right eye for taking photos. This might be called ‘Leica’ disease 😉

    • Definitely an interesting subject, Michiel. I’ve always felt that I should use my right eye in order to become a "proper" Leica user. I see very little difference in the rangefinder image whichever eye I use, so I could no doubt force myself into using the right eye. But as an old dog, I suspect new tricks are not easily acquired.

  2. Having just suffered something of an unexplained failure in my right eye (sudden jump in diopter), I have had to switch to my left eye when focussing the M7.

    It is surprisingly easy to do this, although I it is difficult to remember to put the viewfinder in the correct place when lifting the camera to take a picture. The only downside seem to be having to scrunch my nose against the back of the camera.

    • Yes, habit does come into it. As I say in the article, I find holding the camera to my left eye is comforting and (I think) promotes stability. But the nose issue is a real one. That’s one of the reasons I hate having touch screens activated because, inevitably, I cause mayhem with my nose. It’s not an issue with the M7 or any other M for that matter, but I clear problem with rangefinder-style mirrorless cameras such as the Panasonic GX8 or Olympyus PEN-F.

  3. I’m left eye dominant, confirmed again by the video, and I’m right hand dominant. Yet I use my right eye for taking photos. I always have, even before I ever used a rangefinder camera. It’s likely the reason I’ve developed the habit of using my non-dominant eye is because I used to be a hunter when I was a youngster. To use a rifle or shotgun right-handed, it’s difficult to shoot using the left eye for sighting the firearm. So I learned to close my left eye and sight with my right. This carried over to my using a camera’s eye level viewfinder–I close my left eye as I bring the camera to my right eye.

    We’re often told to keep our left eye open when using a rangefinder camera so we can observe what is happening outside the framing. That’s not really possible for me–it confuses my vision. My left eye takes over and my right eye loses it’s ability to effectively frame the shot.

    • You are absolutely right on the phenomenon of the dominant left eye taking over when focusing with the right eye and leaving the left open. I’ve noticed this before and, unless I close my left eye it is difficult to focus effectively. However, I now intend to experiment to see if I can use my right eye, albeit with the left closed.

  4. I used to shoot trap,skeet, sporting clays, back of shotgun right eye was tracking targets, found out was missing targets after hour or so of shooting.went to a shooting school in Pennsylvania, some how left eye would take over and become dominant, corrected when I wore eye patch over left eye. Decided I didn’t need to be on the shooting line with one eye or in the woods hunting Grouse, so gave it up. I write with left hand all else right hand, strange how your eyes respond to stress.

    • I understand is sometimes isn’t easy to line up a gun with the left eye, but it seems from all the videos that some sports, including archery and even pool, depend on the use of the dominant eye.

  5. So just to add some alternative confusion to this one – I am right eye dominant, right handed, but bizarrely played my entire football career on the left side of the field – as I am naturally left footed. I can use my right foot, but my left is so much sweeter. One of my daughters is left handed, right eye dominant, and the right footed to kick a ball.

    The mechanics and DNA of being human, just plain odd.

  6. Tried to use my left (dominant) eye on the Leica CL , but what a bummer as my big nose was at the wrong place 😉

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