This is a subject I started mulling over last summer, and I made some notes at the time. But now feels a more appropriate time than ever to have a go at sharing it in a blog post. With spring upon us, it's usually the most dynamic, energetic, and optimistic season to be out and about, with so much of nature to enjoy - whether it be actively or subliminally. But for obvious reasons we're not going to be able to enjoy the season this year, as we once would. So besides taking the opportunities we have to get outside, how do we bring the outside in, and why would we want to? What is it about nature imagery that we enjoy?
Spring Bluebell WoodlandA beautiful woodland scene, on a fresh spring morning. The woods are an enchanting landscape at any time, but especially so with a carpet of bluebells in bloom.
This is a multi-photo panorama, which I like to use in the woods, to emphasise the feeling of being surrounded by trees.
Fine Art Landscape Photography, Hertfordshire, UK.
For some of us this is an obvious answer; knowing that we value nature in our lives. But for many people it's a far more subconscious effect. The majority of people will go about their lives not noticing the natural scenery around them, like the trees lining a street, or the wall art in their lives such as those large prints hanging in office buildings around the world. Most people pass them in reception without a second look, and in many ways that's how they're designed to be consumed; a subtle reminder of the outside, adding texture to a man-made surface, or softening a wall space which would otherwise feel cold and oppressive. Yet whether they're noticed or not, they still do their job; relaxing us, relieving stress, and offering an opportunity to engage our imagination and escape the hum-drum.
We know that people value a good view. The promise of a view raises the value of hotel rooms, attracting guests seeking 'sea views' or 'herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain'. Hospital patients with window-views to trees and natural spaces recover faster, and require less pain relief (more). At school, children with a view of nature show increased attention and decreased stress (more). And at work employees report a greater sense of job satisfaction and overall health when they are near a window. And the good news is, just looking at photos of nature can help reduce stress levels (more), and aid recovery of stressful events (more).
For more about the benefits of nature in our lives, have a look at these links:
OK, well I would imagine that by now, most people understand that exposure to nature is important on a subconscious level. Next is the question pertaining more specifically to what I do...
Loughrigg Fell SunsetThe sun sets over the Lake District hills, brushing the valley with golden light.
Taken from Loughrigg Fell, during an autumn visit to the Lake District.
Landscape photography, Cumbria, UK.
Why do you enjoy nature photography?
For me, it's largely an escape. From the modern world, and all its artificial trappings. Somehow nature photography seems more 'real'. It has a back-to-basics quality about it. On an aesthetic level I enjoy minimalism, colour combinations, symmetry, balanced compositions, and interesting viewpoints. I consume nature photography as it pops up in my social media feeds (OK, it constitutes 90% of my social media feeds), and also through the photos on my walls. As I enjoy landscape photography on my travels, I also like to see photos that remind me of places I've been - even a quick glimpse of Iceland can bring back fresh memories of my time there. These brief moments of nature break the monotony of everyday life, offering distraction, solace, and escapism. But there's more to it, even than that.
We see more shades of green than any other colour. It's our natural environment, and time in nature is proven to relax us - reducing levels of cortisol; our primary stress hormone (more).
I can heartily recommend Ingrid Fetell Lee's book Joyful, which discusses a range of sources that spark joy in everyday life. And in which she outlines the theory of The Ideal Landscape; a concept originating from a 1993 survey to discover what people like to see in an image (painting, drawing, photo, of any kind). And the results from the ten disparate countries surveyed were surprisingly similar; Grassy areas, trees, and blue skies. When asked what people want to see, it's most often the kinds of views portrayed in classic landscape photography.
This in turn ties in with an idea from geographer Jay Appleton, dubbed "Prospect Refuge Theory". That's the idea that humans seek viewpoints which provide wide vistas and opportunities to explore the landscape (prospect), but that also offer protection and shelter (refuge). Not mentioned in the title is the third element; Hazard - "the proximity of something which threatens, menaces, or disturbs our equilibrium". These three elements regularly form the basis of compositions in popular landscape photography. Prospect will often be manifested by rolling hills, fields, the sea, and other open spaces. Refuge is represented in the form of cabins and huts, trees (which provide cover), boats, or lookouts (wherever the girl in the yellow jacket is standing, on Instagram). Hazard is an enjoyable element to play with, and will often come in the form of incoming storms, imposing clouds, or areas of deep shadow.
Rather than ramble on too much about image theory, I'll just conclude by adding that there are many and varied concepts which explain our predilection for nature imagery, and they each help to add to our understanding of why we like the pictures we do. Maybe I'll write a follow-up post specifically about this subject in the future, as it's something I'm particularly interested in.
Skuleskogen ForestA wide-aspect view of the forests of Skuleskogen National Park, in the High Coast (Höga Kusten) region of Sweden.
The Swedish High Coast is a spectacular area of the country, situated around halfway up the East coast of the country. Skuleskogen offers easy hiking trails with views of green forests, granite mountains, big skies, and the many nearby off-shore islands.
Travel photography, Hoga Kusten, Sweden.
Misty Forest Layers - FramedFramed photo of a misty morning in the Dolomites.
Fine art landscape photography wall art. Oh gosh, how embarrassing. I seem to have led you straight to my Landscape wall art gallery.
*blush* ...Maybe I'm getting the hang of this marketing thing after all!
Here are some more ideas...
A window! Probably the hardest to achieve, certainly in the short-term, but it could be the most beneficial long-term, if you have line-of-sight to a green space.
Paintings & drawings. Maybe I'm biased, but I really enjoy wall art, whether it's a nature scene or something more abstract. I'm also keen to try some sort of 'mural' or large-scale wall print in our house. And alongside photography, paintings and drawings are a great way of giving yourself exposure to a view of nature, in a more traditional medium. If you're feeling particularly inspired you can unleash you inner Bob Ross, and get painting yourself.
Nature-inspired crafts. I really like the idea of using leaves in art. Check out these clay leaf bowls. Framing pressed leaves seems like a nice thing to do too, and creates a really beautiful wall feature. Again, there are lots of other ideas on places like Pinterest. You can quickly find or create mixed media wall art that takes its inspiration from nature, and brings a subtle hint of the outside to your home interior. And you have all the options of sewing, knitting, and textiles, which can equally be applied to wall art. Check out these seasonal crochet wreaths my mum has been making...
...Apparently winter is currently in production too.
House plants. I'm not green-fingered - my record with house plants is sketchy at best. But I do love a house plant, and I have a thing about wanting a tree in the living room. And I can vouch for the boost to my demeanour from this and other plants in my living spaces. But don't take my word for it. Here's the RHS's word on the matter. There are loads of different species of plant that do well indoors, and lots of ideas for how to pot, hang, or display them. Try something like Pinterest to get your inspiration going.
Digital wallpaper. Right, this is the easiest one of all. Everyone has a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Just set the wallpaper to a nice landscape scene. You'll absorb that subliminally throughout the day. I didn't used to do this - I wanted to keep my work laptop looking smart and professional. But after making this one small change, it really had an effect. I really recommend it.
Silver Birch PanoramaA wide-aspect panorama image of silver birch trees in early autumn. This super-wide image is made by stitching several photos side-by-side. Being a very large file, it's well suited to very large wall prints.
I took this on a damp morning, which really brings out the colours from the scene.
Part of an ongoing treescape project within my wider landscape photography gallery.
Fine art nature photography, UK.
If at this point, I haven't inspired you to pick up a paintbrush, a pot plant, or a landscape print, I don't know what else I can do! As a reader of this blog, you probably recognised the value of nature in your life before now, and it's up to us share our understanding, and to use it to decorate the spaces which we share with people who are often less mindful of the benefits. So best of luck! If you found this post helpful or interesting, please give it a share on the socials. And if you do get something up on the wall as a result of reading this post, please share a photo and tag me. I'd love to see how you spruce up your walls, and increase your exposure to the positive, relaxing, and stress-relieving effects of nature.
Post by George Wheelhouse, 2020.