Left or right?


One interesting topic somewhat relevant to photography is lateral dominance. Basically it is the spatial asymmetry of brain functions leading to certain handedness for instance.

It is well know most people (up to 90%) are right-handed and this is linked to the fact that left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for language.

Arising from this common knowledge are several misconceptions. One rather famous example being the abundance of “righty” shooters in American hockey compared to Canadian or even more so to Soviet hockey. Based on this article by New York Times 60% Canadian players shoot left while 60% of American players shoot right, while some of the best Soviet teams had not a single right-shooting player. My explanation is that it is all about ignorance. When parents buy the very first hockey stick for their kid they often assume being right-handed means you need a right-handed stick, while in fact, it is the other way round (your hand which can perform fine tasks such as writing should be the hand on top of the stick for better stick control implying a right-handed person should shoot “left”). In Canada where hockey is a bigger deal many kids go through organized hockey where the coaches will tell them that more often and the decision will not be left to ignorant parents. In USSR it was even more pronounced, where the sport school tradition was more rigorous and enforcing especially in a sport like hockey and where the idea that the right-handedness is indeed the “right” way was quite popular.

Now back to what is relevant to photography. Naturally handedness plays a role. On almost all cameras you will find most controls on the right side making all cameras suitable for right-handed people. Left handed  people are not that lucky. There have been “left-handed” cameras; however this is so rare, one can safely assume they do not exist. It has been reported that manufacturers say it is not cost efficient to build “left-handed” cameras. There are discussions on internet on this topic, like this one for instance.

However this is not what prompted me to write this post. The topic of most interest to me is ocular dominance or in other words eye dominance. Most people assume the eye dominance is directly linked to handedness, while it is not so simple. Note: wikipedia articles on handedness and eye dominance I link to are rather poorly written and do not seem very reliable. Furthermore, I’ve checked some scientific articles on the topic and they do not look very good either (at least the older ones where methodology is usually just wrong)

Apparently about 2/3 of the population is right-eye dominant while the rest is left-eye dominant, so the split is not as big as with handedness. The important thing however is that eye dominance is not directly linked to handedness. I wish I had more data on this. A study checking the correlation between handedness and eye dominance should have been performed, though I’m not aware of it. If you are, please post a reference.

Now the question arises which eye do you use for framing and focusing. The answer is – use your dominant eye. It is quite easy to determine which eye is the dominant one, for instance by pointing a finger towards an object with a hand stretched so that the finger is far from your eyes and then closing one eye then the other – when you close your dominant eye, the finger is not pointing at the object any more – you see the object moved to the side in respect to the finger. (more ways are described in the wikipedia article).

Now there is a very common belief one should use their right eye for focusing while using their left eye for observing the surroundings and looking “beyond the frame”. Take a look at how every camera viewfinder is positioned and imagine using your right eye or your left eye to frame. It is easy to get the idea. It makes sense too. Maybe Oskar Barnack – the father of Leica – was right eyed?

Now obviously if you are left-eyed (like me) you can not do that. When you use your dominant eye, your whole face will be behind the camera and your nose sticking into the LCD monitor, leaving prints on it. (Don’t worry though, there are some advantages too when using your left eye for framing and focusing).

Now remember, I have mentioned eye dominance is not fully correlated with handedness, which means being right-handed does not mean you are also right-eyed. For instance I’m clearly right-handed and left-eyed. I’ve been always using my left eye to focus and frame.

The implications of various combinations (right-handed/right-eyed, right-handed/left-eyed, left-handed/right-eyed or left-handed/left-eyed) maybe not so pronounced in photography as they are in the army 🙂 Left handed shooters have a huge problem using normal guns – if they use the gun on their left side the fired cartridges cases will be ejected into their body or even their face. The eye dominance will further complicate things. For instance for a right-handed/left-eyed person like me it will be convenient to handle the normal gun, while aiming with it will be an inconvenience.

So tell me, are you right-handed or left-handed, right-eyed or left-eyed? Did you indeed use your dominant eye for shooting before you knew which eye is your dominant one or not?

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2 Responses to Left or right?

  1. Di Donovan says:

    Since taking up photography many years ago, it has been apparent that I am right handed & left eye. When we looked back at old pics my husband had taken of me with any camera,
    I have only ever used my left eye. This was confirmed when doing your test above.

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