Optimizing Your Eyes For Photography Editing

Streamlining your editing workflow doesn’t have to stop at Lightroom presets and database backups. It also means having the right workspace, and taking care of your eyes.

We spoke with Dr. Scott Greenstein, an ophthalmologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, and C. David Tobie of color-management specialists DataColor about how to optimize your peepers and your personal workspace for even-better editing sessions.

Don’t Worry About the Long-Term
“You’re not going to damage your eyes by sitting at a computer,” Greenstein says, even if you log long editing sessions on the regular.

He notes that computers have been in the workplace for more than 30 years now—long enough to turn up any worrisome pattens related to vision loss. Studies by the National Eye Institute haven’t turned up anything yet.

It’s sort of like the old myth, if you study in a dark room or by candlelight, you’re going to need glasses,” Greenstein says. “These are basically old wives’ tales.”

Make Yourself Comfortable
This sounds obvious, but so many photographers still suffer from the temporary eye-strain, dryness, and headaches that can come along with extended screen time.

Greenstein gives his patients a few common-sense tips to reduce discomfort. If you’re getting headaches, adjust the brightness (usually by turning it down). Sit a comfortable distance from the screen, so you don’t have to struggle to see detail. For most people, it’s between two and three feet from the monitor, depending on the screen size and your personal preference.


Change Your Focal Length
Just like a zoom lens, your eyes can adjust to different focal lengths. Try to use the whole range—it eases discomfort and strain.

“Take a break, and change your focal length,” Greenstein says. “Look away, look out a window, walk around the office. We advise this to anybody doing a lot of office work, whether it’s an accountant or a photographer—anybody working on a screen.”

Keep Eye Drops Handy

“Some people who stare at a computer all day don’t blink as much as if they were doing something else, and it can actually develop or exacerbate dry eyes,” Greenstein says. “Put a drop of over-the-counter artificial tears in each eye periodically to soothe and lubricate.”

Get the Right Prescription

We sit at an intermediate distance from computer screens—too far for reading glasses, too close for distance glasses, Greenstein says. Check with your eye doctor to see whether your prescription covers the two- or three-foot range. If not, you can have that range added.

For serious editors, Tobie suggests going a step further. “Ideally, a pair of dedicated single-focal glasses of the prescription needed for your preferred display viewing distance should be used for critical editing work,” he says.

Dim Your Ambient Lights
Ambient lighting can really tie a room together—but it can also get in the way of effective editing.

Tobie suggests to start by turning off most overhead lights, and pulling blinds over the windows.

“Windows are a variable light source. Consistency is the goal. I’d suggest both drapes and blinds as the right amount of window coverage” he says. “Think of hotel black-out drapes. Get your sunshine while on frequent breaks, not while editing.”

When a room has too much incidental light, your eye adjusts to the color temperature of the room, rather than the monitor, Tobie says, so it’s important to make the monitor the main light source.

Of course, there’s room for some ambient lighting. “A single lamp off to one side, where prints can be viewed, shaded to be out of the eye’s direct field-of-view, is ideal. A 5000k proofing lamp is ideal. A low-cost Ott-Lite is a reasonable alternative.”

Let Your Monitor Warm Up
As the temperature of your monitor changes, it displays colors slightly differently. But once it reaches a static temperature, the colors will stay put. Tobie suggests running a display for an hour before any “color-critical work” (you can decide if your photos qualify for that distinction), and then leaving it turned on all day.

For what it’s worth, your eyes are remarkably consistent in this regard. Even during an editing marathon, they’ll see color and detail the exact same way in the first five minutes as they do in the last bleary hour. The amount of time you’ve been staring at a screen “will absolutely not” affect the way your eye perceives the screen, Greenstein says.

Be Healthy!
Unless you have an existing condition, no food, vitamin, or exercise will improve your eyesight or directly benefit the health of your eye, Greenstein says. But a healthy lifestyle decreases the risk of serious eye problems.

“Obesity and smoking are two major risk factors for macular degeneration,” a chronic loss of vision, Greenstein says. “Obviously you don’t want to become diabetic.”

In general, what’s good for your body is also good for your eyes, so be sure to take walks, eat well, and stop to smell the roses.