OSU student Sahil Sharma is legally blind, but spends his time mastering a craft that relies on the eyes. | Courtesy: Sahil Sharma

Born and raised a true ‘90s kid, Sahil Sharma had an unusual infatuation with disposable cameras at only five-years-old. But unlike anyone he knew, his joy came from taking photos of others, never of himself.

“I don’t remember why, but I used to always ask my mom for a disposable camera and I’d just go around taking pictures of my friends,” Sharma said. “I was always like ‘Hey, can I take a photo of you?”

At around the same age, however, Sharma was diagnosed with cone-rod retinal dystrophy, a non-correctional vision impairment caused by a twisted retina. Sharma said the condition could be described as extreme near-sightedness.

Though his vision problem categorized him as legally blind, Sharma said he worked hard to overcome the obstacles that it caused, like  being placed in lower-level classes in elementary school and being treated differently by his peers.

Now, nearly two decades later, Sharma has maintained a strong love for photography, despite the issues his disability may have caused along the way. As a fifth-year studying psychology, he said his passion stems from a love for people.

“It was always a lot of fun to me. It was never about looks, it was never about fashion, it was never about location,” he said. “It was always just about having fun with the person you’re taking photos with. Just trying to capture something that you find cool, something that appeals to you or your idea of self –– that was really important to me.”

Last October, Sharma was asked to walk in the annual Buckeyethon Fashion show, an opportunity he said he couldn’t pass up. But with the increased participation fee from $100 to $250, he said it became more difficult to raise funds, especially for someone putting himself through school.

For many of us, work and play are separate worlds, but for Sharma, photography became a business inspired by his motivation to raise money for the annual fundraiser.

“I was just like ‘I have this camera, I’ll take photos for people and I’ll charge $10,” he said. “I was sure people would go for that and I’d hit my goal.”

One Facebook post later, Sharma was flooded with more than 30 sign-ups in a week.

Despite his vision, Sharma’s success proves that photography is more than just seeing through a lens.

“My vision really has nothing to do with my photography,” said Sharma. It’s about working with the person you’re with and capturing that moment. I can’t see super detailed features, but if I take photo of you then go on the computer and edit it, it’s like I’m learning what people look like.”

Jenny Querry, a May 2017 graduate and one of Sharma’s models, worked with the photographer when he first started his business. Querry said she didn’t even notice Sharma’s vision impairment during their shoot.

“He wants to make sure you’re happy with the final product, so is willing to try as many angles and styles as you want,” she said. “He’s a genuinely awesome person who just loves to see other people happy –– he’s truly selfless in that respect.”

Though Sharma described his own process as “guess and go,” the magic happens during editing where he’ll do very little except sharpen the eyes or play with the photo’s lighting.

“To me, everybody looks different, everybody has their own uniqueness in features and magic to them, but I want to edit in a common way,” he said. “I want everybody’s smile to shine and I want everybody’s eyes to pierce through.”

Now self-labeled as “The Blind Photographer,” Sharma said photography has helped his vision in ways he never thought possible, boosting his self-confidence and allowing him to be more open about his impairment.

“I’ve been doing this all on my own, all on my own time, all ahead of my own, creative, artistic desire to help others and put art out there,” said Sharma. “Just to make myself have representation because there’s no representation for (disabled) people. It’s time for everybody to (make) their mark on the world, whatever that may look like.”

With a love for helping others and a hand at photography, Sharma said he wanted to continue to do his part to give back to the community in any way possible.

Sharma will be holding a “Free Headshot Day” at Knowlton Hall on Monday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m. for anyone in need of a photo for applications, professional networking or online profiles.