We all want to make images that share our experiences with others. We want them to feel what we felt. That’s also one of the most difficult challenges of meaningful photography.
In a previous article, I shared some ways of staying inspired when photographing familiar locations. I emphasized how connecting emotionally with the landscape is the basis of any successful image.
I’ve also talked about the importance of using all of your senses, not just your eyes, to navigate this “emotional landscape.” For this to happen, you need to become aware of your other senses, pay attention to them in a conscious way, give them space to develop.
This is difficult for us because photography is a visual medium, and almost everything we experience in the landscape can seem to be visually oriented. We spend our time consciously looking and trying to see. “Vision, of course, is more than recording what meets the eye: it’s the ability to understand, almost instantaneously, what we see. And that happens in the brain,” says Denise Grady in her article on vision for Discover Magazine.
We now know that what you see is made up of what your eyes are seeing and extra information the brain adds based on experience. As nature photographers, it’s vital to realize that at the moment of making an image, we are in fact reacting to more than what we see.
We notice silence and feel serene. We hear the surf and feel more relaxed. We smell the ocean and special moments from past experiences arise. We feel the texture of the sandstone and somehow feel more connected, more grounded to the earth.
All of these sensory perceptions influence how we respond to the landscape and let us experience that emotional connection we want to share in our photographs. But the longer we fixate on what we see—the landscape, the camera, the gear, the phone—the more we lose the awareness of what the other senses are telling us.
And of course, a photograph doesn’t have a way of conveying those other senses. They have to be implied visually.
But before you can even start to learn how to do this compositionally, you need to become hyper aware of your other senses first. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to close your eyes. Yes, that sounds over simplistic, but when was the last time you stood in front of an amazing landscape and closed your eyes for fifteen seconds?
As Daniel Coyle says in The Little Book of Talent, “Closing your eyes is a swift way to nudge you to the edges of your ability, to get you into your sweet spot. It sweeps away distraction and engages your other senses to provide new feedback.”
Next time you’re busy looking at the landscape trying to decide how to convey what you see and feel in a picture, devote thirty seconds to your other senses and see what they tell you. Not only will you become more holistically aware of your surroundings and your feelings, what you see when you open your eyes will look brighter, deeper, and more colorful.
That might be just what you need to appreciate that same familiar landscape you’re trying to experience in a new way.