Wednesday, December 07, 2011
Through photography, blind can see


Tara Miller is legally blind. Her eyes can see less than 10% of what an unimpaired person can see. She's also an award-winning art photographer.


Miller took up photography as a hobby when she was a kid, but gave it up when she started to lose her vision to glaucoma - until about two years ago. That's when she realized that, using a digital camera and her computer, she could blow the photos up big enough that she could see them again.


"It woke up something inside me," Miller said.


After shooting, Miller enlarges her photos anywhere from 200% to 500% to make sure everything is crisp and clear. Blurry images "drive me crazy," she says. "I want to produce an image that I'd be happy to sell. If a client is paying for something, it has to be 100%." She's memorized the settings on her camera since she can't see them, and uses her hands and arms as guides to judge angles and distance when she's setting up lights and other equipment.


"It took me about six months to learn [to set up the equipment] because I was so scared that I was going to drop something. But I knew that I had to have the skills to use the equipment," she says. Her husband, also a photographer, helped her figure it all out. They balance each other well when they're working together: "He was commercially trained, and I'm more the artistic one," says Miller.


The image above, which Miller shot in summer 2010, is "just the most incredible photo I've taken." It won the grand prize in the 2011 Canadian National Institute for the Blind Eye Remember national photography competition, which was open to all photographers, sighted and non. Miller enjoys photographing weather events, and says the timing for this Manitoba, Canada picture was perfect - just before the rain started.


If you're thinking the image looks Photoshopped - it is. After shooting a photo, Miller usually adjusts the coloring to match what she sees rather than what a "normal" eye may see.


"I bring the colors back to how I see it," she explains. Because of her condition and many treatments, "I'm able to see UV light, so I tend to see colors differently."


Since winning the competition, Miller has been in the spotlight of the Canadian media - "I had to join Toastmasters because I had speech requests!" - but she sees all the attention as a positive thing, since she hopes it will help educate others about vision loss.


"I like to educate people on eyesight and how important it is to go to the doctor," she says. "I do a lot of volunteering."


Miller is active on Facebook and welcomes questions about her condition and requests for advice from the visually impaired. "I answer all my email!"


Believe it or not, Tara Miller isn't the first blind photographer to show off her work on CNN - she's the third! Check out the others: Kurt Weston creates art photography mostly about his vision loss, and Craig Royal uses autofocus and slow shutter speeds to create his abstract works.

December 7, 2011
Click to view 100AWPhoto's profile

Congratulations Tara very well deserved.

December 7, 2011
Click to view MarieSager's profile

Beautiful beyond words.  A photographers dream to capture something like this.

December 7, 2011
Click to view nursie's profile


December 7, 2011
Click to view TaraMillerMB's profile

Unfortunately mine was not preventable as I had other conditions from birth due to all the surgeries that I had. I hope that when people read this they take the time to go to the Dr. for regular eye exams.


December 7, 2011
Click to view omekongo's profile

Wow this really cool as well as inspirational. Thanks for sharing! You should also join the Canadian Speakers Association. You have a great story!

December 7, 2011

It is not possible to see UV light... absolutely there will be changes in how she would see color, and the photo is beautiful, but humans can't see in the ultraviolet spectrum.

December 7, 2011
Click to view TaraMillerMB's profile

@ peregrineros.  

I was just as amazed when I realized there is an upside to having Aphakia. When I was younger, I wore a media alert bracelet because my eye Dr. told me that because of this condition if I was in an accident that my pupils wouldn't dilate as quickly when paramedics were looking for first signs of response. I took this advice and never questioned or read up on the condition. When it was discovered the internet was not around so my research was limited. It wasn't until recently when I was out photographing and was amazed with the beautiful colours. And then when I got it home and viewed it on the computer the colours weren't as vibrant as I had seen with my eye. I thought maybe there was a problem with my camera that I had it set up incorrectly but when I looked at my husbands images from the same place, his images were the same as mine, but he reconfirmed that is exactly it appeared for him. This lead to great frustration if the camera was right, then why didn't I see it the same? It was then I went back to the internet and started searching all the different eye conditions that I have and when I got to reading about Aphakia, I saw there was a few links referencing the ability to see UV light. One of the things I was most excited about was finding out that Monet also had the same condition after his cataract surgery. Thanks so much for asking here is an article that I found online.


"You don't have to come from another planet to see ultraviolet light, "says David Hambling


aphakic patients report that the process has an unusual side effect: they can see ultraviolet light. It is not normally visible because the lens blocks it. Some artificial lenses are also transparent to UV with the same effect. The receptors in the eye for blue light can actually see ultraviolet better than blue.  -Guardian under Science


December 7, 2011

Tara, you are mistaken.  UV light does go through the natural lens of the eye (just not synthetic lenses after cataract surgery) in all people.  It is part of what can cause macular degeneration.  Our photoreceptors are not sensitive to ultraviolet light, they do not fire in those wavelengths, so the eye has no response to that.


There are many reasons that you would have different colors on your camera vs. real life vs. computer monitor... contrast, lighting, etc are all factors. 


I am a low vision rehabilitation optometrist, so work with people who are legally blind/visually impaired.


Much of Monet's art was colored the way it was due to his dense cataracts affecting his vision, and then his color vision totally changed once the yellow/brown cataracts were removed.  This isn't perception of UV light, it is the removal of a densely cloudy and colored lens.


Please read up on the actual physiology of the eye and how it works before providing grossly inaccurate information on the internet... too many people read things on the internet and swear it must be true.

December 7, 2011
Click to view davecme's profile

@ peregrineros


While you may disagree, there is quite a bit of research on this topic and available for your consumption on the internet.  Much of it was done and published by research universities.  The conclusions:  The crystalline lense is responsible for filtering out the majority of UV light from reaching the cornea.  Once removed it has been found that many individuals (not all) can actually see UV light.  All three types of receptors, green-red-blue are sensitive to UV, but the blue a little more sensitive.  The reports conclude that humans missing their lense observe UV light as white with a violet or blue tint to it.  This does have the impact of impacting color saturation observed by these individuals.


That being said studies have also shown that many types of insects and mostly small mammals and birds observe and can see UV light.  However, often their receptors are more sensitive and therefore the colors observed are quite different than what a human would observe.


Before being so critical, though you are in an optometry field, it might be helpful to do some research on subject material and findings that is constantly training.  A good friend of mine is a neurosurgeon and very distinguished.  He keeps reminding me that sense he went to school and is practicing more than 20 years ago, he is constantly discovering new and informative studies and information that is helpful in diagnosis, treatment, and surgical procedures that were thought to be untrue or unheard of then.  In his own words - "school never really ended".

December 7, 2011
Click to view Photoartjan's profile

Tara that's really a beautiful image. Congratulations on winning that major award and the recognition that comes with it. I share both your excitement and enjoyment of working in photography and some of the challenges faced because of visual impairment. I'm legally blind in one eye, and have some other issues that create visual problems. I'm also a visual artist, now working in altered photography but with an educational background in painting and printmaking. I'd enjoy comparing notes and viewing more of your work.


December 8, 2011
Click to view azchila's profile

Tara you are amazing! This photo is beautiful!

December 8, 2011
Click to view MomofThree66's profile

I am a photographer, and I can't imagine how you felt during those years that you weren't using your camera. I'd feel like an appendage was gone. I love technology specifically for this reason. I love how your unique perspective has brought something totally new to the art world. Congrats!

December 8, 2011
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December 8, 2011
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December 9, 2011
Click to view RobinSlater's profile

Inspirational ... and goes to show that a good attitude can overcome (or at least compensate) challenges.

December 9, 2011

Outstanding!! Well Done.

December 9, 2011
Click to view TaraMillerMB's profile

Thank you!

December 10, 2011
Click to view alleebeth's profile

Beautiful & inspiring.

December 11, 2011
Click to view joanniebalon's profile

Besides this photo being breath taking beautiful, more amazing is that what she can't see with her eyes she can see once the picture has been developed. I hope to see more of her works. Thank you.

December 11, 2011
Click to view kaylamichele's profile

It's amazing how she doesn't let her disability stop her from doing something she loves to do. Instead of quitting she pressed on and ended up inspiring a lot of people. Tara is showing the world that you can't let anything hold you back. Tara is a very inspirational woman and her photos are beautiful. She's so very talented.

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