Written by: Jill Remensnyder
Ask any photographer or DP what they’d do if they lost their vision and you’ll be sure to strike a nerve. For anyone who’s made a life by looking through a lens, it could easily mean the end of the world. For skateboarder turned photographer Chad Rivera going blind put him behind the camera.
As a young adult Chad was diagnosed with LHON (Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.) This genetic disease causes a loss of central vision that eventually develops into more severe degrees of vision loss. Losing his sight caused him to hit pause on two of his passions: art and skateboarding. Twenty years later and legally blind, Chad is doing the unthinkable. Not only has he returned to skateboarding (with a little encouragement from his sons), he’s discovered a new world through the camera lens.
“Being a blind photographer catches a lot of people off guard,” says Chad. Some might think his condition (especially behind the camera) would be a handicap but Chad adds, “I don’t think twice about being blind. I’m not letting it get me down.”
Initially, Chad was shooting video of his sons skateboarding. His strategy was easy enough- put on a wide-angle lens, try to follow the motion through the viewfinder, and hope for the best. As his sons advanced into competitive skating and riding the Mega Ramps, Chad found himself in the company of many seasoned skateboard photographers who took notice of him. One of the people who took notice was Bruno Passos. A skateboarder and personal photographer to legendary skater Bob Burnquist, Bruno thought Chad might benefit from trying out his Zacuto Z-Finder.
“The Z-Finder opened up a whole new world to me,” says Chad. Not only did the Z-Finder enable him to work more efficiently with the camera, it introduced him to shooting stills. It’s only been since February of this year that Chad picked up a DSLR camera and tried out the Z-Finder. He’s been hooked ever since.
After Chad purchased his Canon 7D he did what any serious photographer would do- he took the time to learn the camera inside and out. This meant memorizing the order of the ISO, shutter, F-stop, and understanding how the measurements changed when his perception of the light changed. Playing around and experimenting with the camera and the settings gave Chad a good understanding of how the camera worked and how he’d need to work the camera. With the Z-Finder attached, he can find his subject easier and be confident he’s capturing the image he wants.
As much as the Z-Finder helps him shoot, he wants to be clear that it isn’t creating any magic cure for his eye condition. “I know what I’m shooting, but I can’t tell what I’m shooting until I get home and magnify the image.” Chad compares his vision to looking through a fogged up glass shower door. He can make out shapes and is able differentiate between light and darkness.
Chad’s advice to those interested in getting into photography is simple and can be applied to any aspect of life: Don’t be be afraid to try. Being critical of one’s work is something all artists struggle with but Chad understands his perspective is very unique. He compares photography to being an art form a lot like skateboarding; it isn’t about creating the perfect shot, it’s about creating your own style.
To learn more about Chad and his life with LHON watch video below
For more information on LHON please visit www.lhon.org.