Craig Royal is an award-winning fine art photographer based in Tampa, Florida. Visit his website here.
PetaPixel: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Craig Royal: I’m a visually impaired fine art photographer. I’m legally blind due to a congenital form of optic nerve atrophy. I have been legally blind since birth. My vision had been 20/200 corrected up until 1992, when a white blind spot began to develop in the center of my visual field in both eyes.
After the blind spot stabilized, my vision was, and currently is, 20/400. My peripheral vision is blurred so I miss out on a lot of detail, but that blurriness also provides an impressionist quality to what I see. The white blind spot adds a surreal element. It’s like having to stare at a light that you can’t turn off even with the eyes closed. If you were to stand 4 feet from me the blind spot would be the size of your head. In 2011 I was diagnosed with cataracts, which is adding a haze.
Prior to my interest in photography my creative endeavors ranged from woodworking (I earned a BFA in Crafts in 1982 from Virginia Commonwealth University), to stone and mixed media sculpture. Employment was mostly woodwork related.
PP: How did you first get into photography?
CR: My visual reality and other health factors were resulting in a real frustration in producing 3D art. In 2007 I bought a DSLR and loved the immediacy, loved auto focus lenses, loved photo editing software. Along with a 4x monocular, which I use to edit photos, this all made up a workable platform for me and I was excited about the new creative possibilities.
PP: What was the first camera you’ve ever owned?
CR: I had a cheap film camera as a kid and have no memory of the make or model.
PP: What equipment do you shoot with these days?
CR: I have a Nikon D7000. Lenses are a Nikor 80-200mm 1:2.8D, a 50mm 1:1.8D and a 70-300mm 1:4.5G.
PP: Can you tell us a little about what it’s like for you to use the camera and frame your shots?
CR: I can see the subject I’m shooting but not the detail. I can frame my shots through the viewfinder but I’m not able to see the quality of the image on camera. I have to upload them on the computer so I can enlarge them to see if they are in focus. As far as viewing the Info and Menu screens I can see the larger shutter speed and f stop numbers and barely see the menu headings without my monocular.
PP: How would you describe your photography to someone who has never come across it before?
CR: When it comes to my reflection abstracts I see the water as a canvas, the reflections as pigment, and the wind as a brush. Whether as pure abstracts or their ability to suggest something beyond themselves, like a Rorschach inkblot test, they are an endless source of inspiration.
PP: How do you create your photographs?
CR: The rippling water brings the reflections into the 3rd dimension. When photographed with a slow shutter speed (around 1/8) the reflections expand into amazing shapes.
PP: How do you go about editing your photographs? What software do you use, and what is your goal during the post-processing stage?
CR: I use Photoshop CS6 to edit my photography. I’m not wedded to the original image. There may be a lot of flotsam on the water surface that I’ll edit out. I’ll saturate color. I might use artistic filters to enliven the surface. I’ll manipulate form, if need be, in order to develop a poetic theme as in my Persistence of Memory series.
I love Abstract Expressionist art. The composition of a reflection will grab me aesthetically. The dance of light on the surface of water is the expression of Nature’s elements that I try to capture and share. It is so fleeting…so in the moment.
PP: What are you most proud of so far in your journey in photography?
CR: Photography has allowed me to keep my passion to create alive and that my vision has not impaired my Vision.
PP: Are there any other subjects you like to photograph besides water and reflections?
CR: I enjoy architectural detail shots. Many of which I’ve abstracted digitally with motion blur and radial blur filters. My Visual Impairment Abstracts are created from architectural shots. Birds are another interest. The shots tend to be close ups so I can see the detail.
PP: Are there any common misconceptions people have about visually impaired photographers?
CR: When sighted people hear the word “blind” they tend to think you can’t see at all. There are totally blind photographers like Pete Eckert. There is a lot of grey area between being legally blind at 20/200 (corrected) and being totally blind. My visual impairment is an invisible disability in that I appear to be normal. I don’t use a cane or guide dog, yet I live in an odd visual reality.
PP: What is the most important thing you’ve learned about photography so far?
CR: That there is always something new to learn, which keeps it fresh.
PP: What advice do you have for other visually impaired photographers who would like to follow in your footsteps?
CR: Just do it! No matter the degree of vision loss there is a way to work around it.
PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?
CR: If you have vision loss, don’t lose sight of the beauty of life. If you have lost sight of the beauty of life you are truly blind.
Image credits: Photographs by Craig Royal and used with permission