PetaPixel

Confessions of a Colorblind Photographer

aaron1

I’m colorblind.

There it is, I said it. I’ve been holding it back for years, before I even knew I wanted to be a photographer and it feels good to put it out there. I’ve told exactly two photographers about my handicap before tonight but I feel like its time to put it out there publicly. I was ashamed of it but I’m not anymore. It’s part of who I am.

It started when I was in kindergarten. I just couldn’t get the colors right. My mom told me that in the beginning, she just thought I was being a goofball but after a while, it was hard to ignore that sometimes, I just couldn’t tell certain colors apart. It never got better, and after a while, the teachers understood my struggle and life went on.

That didn’t stop me though. I was creative as a child and I liked to draw — a lot. I drew G.I. Joes, Street Fighter characters and all sorts of weird stuff that little boys were into. I’ve always been creative but at that age, color blindness really didn’t matter to me.

(Aaron Lavinsky | The Daily World) EAW Portfolio

I never really considered how much it might impact my future, only that I could never be a fire fighter, a commercial or military pilot or an electrician.

After watching movies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones obsessively as a kid, I did know that I wanted to be a filmmaker though. I tried that and I was never able to break into the world of professional film, only skim the surface with a number of spectacular failures and many lessons learned. Most of it was in my head though.

I know that I knew what looked good, but if someone asked me to grab a gel ( a colored filter that is placed in front of a light for color balancing or effect), I’d be petrified that I might grab the wrong one and ruin the shot. It probably wouldn’t have ruined anything, but it would have been embarrassing and I didn’t want to feel or look dumb in front of a set full of film people.

After spending a little bit of time trying to break into the film world any way I could ( and a TON of support from my parents) I decided to return to school to study journalism.

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Fast forward to now. I’m 27, I’m a professional photographer working my first staff job at a newspaper and people pay me to make pictures for a living. I’m working in an industry that embraces diversity and where the most talented people are often the most unassuming. It’s not all about the light, or the color, although those things are important. It’s about the story, the moments and the deep exploration of subjects and the human experience. I’ve finally come to that understanding after going through periods of intense self-doubt and it feels great.

I’ve been in one situation during my short time as a photojournalist where an editor has questioned the color in one of my photos, and I was too afraid to say anything then, but I’m not anymore. I learned from that experience though. I edit much more carefully (and sparingly) now and know to trust my editors.

I also now know, that without a doubt, I’m meant to be behind a camera in order to tell stories. I know that I’m handicapped, but some of the stories that I’ve covered and that I’m going to cover are too important to be jeopardized by self-doubt.

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Do I wish I wasn’t colorblind? Sometimes. But I am one of the 8% of colorblind men out there and nothing is going to change that. All I can do is push on and keep making pictures. In some ways, my color blindness might help me by seeing things differently from everyone else. Maybe I’ve been forced to focus more on content, composition and other visual elements that I do have control over. I don’t know.

I just know that I have a deep love for photojournalism that won’t go away, color blindness or not. It’s time to focus on what I do have control over and push myself to the next level.

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Thanks for reading and for the people who have believed in me, even if I can’t tell the difference between colors every now and then.


About the author: Aaron Lavinsky is a visual journalist based out of Western Washington. He is a staff photographer for The Daily World in Aberdeen and previously interned for The Arizona Republic and The Seattle Times. When he isn’t hauling around his cameras, Lavinsky enjoys traveling the Pacific Northwest, hiking, camping and catching an occasional fish or two.

You can find more of Aaron’s work by following him on Twitter and Instagram, or by visiting his Tumblr where this article was originally published.


 
  • Yes, Another Tweet

    I feel your pain. I’m in my mid 40′s and have been diagnosed as color blind since the age of 11. I was told at that age that I would probably could never be a pilot or an electrician or various other professions. I started photography when I was 13 and since I was shooting mostly black & white it was never a problem. Actually it was a benefit since I was able to see tones and grey gradients better than most. It was like I could see the Zone system is real life. My initial tests showed that my green-red deficiency was only 20-30% but enough for me to fail all the Ishihara tests. All of them.

    In my 20′s I began to shoot color while working for a local newspaper and it was a horrible experience when shooting negative film and I had to print my own prints. If I shot Chrome then there was no issue. When the newspaper began to scan negatives I was taught by a very good visual editor how to color correct only using the Info panel in Photoshop. It was very effective but a tad bit slow.

    In my mid 20′s I left photography behind and became a police officer but after 10-years it became apparent that the color blindness was getting worse and was it was affecting my job. I had to retire.

    I return to photography and when I picked up my cameras again I was able to switch to digital and learned that color balancing is much easier than with film. Using either a grey card, a reference white paper, or a WhiBal card I can get color pretty much dead-on all the time.

    But I also learned that my color blindness has reached about 50-60% so I find myself editing in black & white a lot more now. I again find it easier to edit this way and my ability to see Zones and tones in greyscale makes it much easier to create a greyscale image than most people. I rather edit my images how I see them (in mostly B&W) rather than how I think they should look like (attempting to color correct).

  • OtterMatt

    At least you’re a photographer. As far as the arts go, this is a pretty darn good field for a colorblind person, especially as long as the papers print (and photosnobs prefer) monochrome.

  • Wesley Williams

    im a photographer! and im colourblind… i dont care, I just shoot! check out Wesley Williams Photography on Facebook.

  • Ken Elliott

    Thanks for the great article.

    Looking at the work of many photographers, I’d say many of us are color-blind to some degree, but not enough for them to notice. Slightly-off skin tones, for example. Or not getting white balance right, and not noticing. I was a bit color-blind myself, until I switched to digital and the instant feedback of color information helped me slowly evolve and improved ability to truly see subtle colors.

    Your work looks nice. I think you have taken a disadvantage in one area, and built strength in other areas. Good job, sir.

  • http://www.markhoustonphotography.com/ mthouston

    Interesting information Color Blindness…http://www.colour-blindness.com/general/prevalence/..

  • Yes, Another Tweet

    I failed every single one of those tests (except the first and last one).

  • http://scottwyden.com/ Scott Wyden Kivowitz

    Nice seeing other color blind photographers out there. Thanks for sharing, Aaron.

  • http://www.behance.net/BJMRamage BJMRamage

    I am colorblind. I am an amateur photographer and professional graphic and web designer. For print design, I learned to read how colors are built by their makeup (CMYK) the Web-RGB spectrum is harder for me to understand. I’ve told employers and not told. Some only knew afterward. Some other designers and developers would ask me for color-correcting help as I could see the tones better and understood the printing affects and color builds. A few normal-vision designers say I could design with color better than they could.
    I built other skills, learning the software, typefaces and production aspects to be an encyclopedia of information for other designers. Sometimes I have trouble color-correcting when there are skin tones, I can easily make them off by a bit.