As retouchers, we often spend hours in front of our computer monitors, with our eyes trained on the finer details we’re enhancing. This is just the time spent while actively retouching, and does not take into the account the hours spent staring at our tablets and mobile phones.
Posture, repetitive movements of the hand and wrist, as well as visual fixation are all common habits for us. However, it’s important to be aware of the undue stress we may cause on ourselves, and some of the healthy habits we can engage in to ensure we’re comfortable and energized in front of the computer and can actually last in this profession for longer.
While this is a rather sweeping topic, I wish to focus this article on the best tips and tricks for your vision.
The 20-20-20 Rule
Many of us have been there. It’s late at night, and you’re more than an hour into perfecting skin texture, when your eyes begin to irritate you. It could just be a subtle blurring, or a growing headache, but you have to pause and blink it off. It’s easy to get sucked into what you’re doing, whether it’s retouching or a movie marathon, your eyes are fixed on the screen and you’ve hit that point of discomfort.
The 20-20-20 Rule is one of the most basic and widely used methods for reducing digital eye strain. The rule states that every 20 minutes, you should look away from your screen to a location about 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. You can vary up this rule by simply closing your eyes for twenty seconds, or preferably, walking around while giving your eyes and your body a much-needed break.
Set A Timer
The 20-20-20 Rule is only as effective as your adherence to it. Time can fly while you’re editing photos, so it’s a strong recommendation to set a series of timers or alarms to go off every twenty minutes as a reminder that it’s time for your break. While some may consider this an interruption to your workflow, eyestrain and a headache are a far worse option to producing quality work and a health threat to your long-term career as a retoucher.
Be Mindful of Your Workstation
Not every desk or office chair is configured with you in mind, so it’s important to make some necessary adjustments for optimal comfort.
When it comes to your monitor, make sure that the screen is positioned to prevent reflection from any overhead or outdoor lighting appearing on your screen. Glare can be a major issue, particularly from more reflective light sources such as fluorescent lighting. If you wear prescription glasses, make sure that your lens have an anti-reflective coating, to further assist in this effort.
While reviewing your workstation, place your monitor close enough so that you can comfortably read the text on the screen without leaning forward. As for the recommended height of your monitor, it is best to have the top of the screen at or slightly below eye level, to allow you to view the screen without bending your neck.
With the advent of “Night Shift Mode” by Apple for their iOS devices, there has been a lot of recent chatter around blue light and its effects on not just vision, but on health in general. There are a myriad of studies around blue light, as well as general exposure to artificial light at night.
The primary concern about it, is that exposure to light at night can suppress the body’s ability to secrete melatonin, as well adversely impact your body’s natural clock (known as its circadian rhythm). Blue light, in particular, has been known to suppress melatonin levels by almost double that of other light rays.
The eye is also not as adept at blocking blue light. The cornea and lens are effective at blocking UV rays from reaching the retina (which is light-sensitive), as less than one percent of UV radiation from the sun ever reaches the retina. Blue light, however, passes right through the cornea, lens, and right to the retina.
Blue light is in nearly everything we use in the digital age. Cell phone displays, tablets, computer monitors, LED lights, and fluorescent light bulbs all contain blue light. Fortunately, there are several ways you can handle this.
Battling Blue Light
Limiting the effects of blue light is best accomplished by keeping your retouching schedule for the daytime. However, if you are going to be burning the midnight oil, then you may want to consider investing in glasses that block blue light. Gunnar Optiks is the king of blue-light blocking eyewear, and is a strong recommendation from many industry professionals.
You can also reduce your exposure and its impact by changing your display settings to a warmer color temperature (as is accomplished by Night Shift Mode). Bear in mind that this will obviously impact the color of your display, and therefore is not ideal when doing any sort of color work with your images.
Other Tips & Exercises
- Lubricate your eyes often by blinking steadily. If you notice that your eyes are particularly dry or irritated, consider keeping eyedrops near your computer to refresh your eyes.
- If your eyes begin to feel tired, eye rolling can be just what the doctor ordered. Close your eyes and roll your eyes in circular motions for nearly a minute. You can also help to exercise your eyes by looking up, then down, and side to side.
- Staring at the same screen for hours calls for visual breaks often. Make sure to take a visual break and focus on something else every now and then.
- There is no substitute for a professional, so the most important reminder we have for you is to ensure an annual visit for a complete eye exam, as issues with the eyes are often silent. Routine check-ups every year help to further ensure proper eye health.