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Experiencing and Photographing Nature: Good for Mind and Body

By January 21, 2022No Comments
Photo of a man in a red jacket walking away from the camera, down a road that curves off to the right. The road is bordered by trees with colorful fall foliage  on both sides.During the coronavirus pandemic, some roads in Rock Creek Park have been closed to traffic, making it easier for people to experience the restorative powers of nature. © Frank Gallagher
During the coronavirus pandemic, some roads in Rock Creek Park have been closed to traffic, making it easier for people to experience the restorative powers of nature. © Frank Gallagher

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Ask nature, wildlife, or landscape photographers about the feelings they get when outside practicing their craft and you’re likely to see an almost mystical look come across their faces. Peaceful. Contemplative. Restful. Restorative. Those are just a few of the terms I’ve heard from photographers talking about how being immersed in nature is good for the soul. It seems that, over the past few years, science and medicine are slowly catching up to what we’ve known for a long time: experiencing the natural world has positive health benefits and is good for your psyche.

A recent article from the Greater Good Magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, looks at research findings showing four ways getting exposure to nature can protect our health and wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic.

First note that the pandemic, with its constant level of stress and worry, has negatively impacted many people’s wellbeing. Incidents of depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse disorder have all gone up over the course of the pandemic.  Nature and nature photography won’t cure all the world’s ills, but can definitely help.

Four ways nature and nature images are good for you

Recent research has examined how being out in nature, or even looking at nature photos and videos, can improve health and happiness.

A collection of studies have shown that people who go outside, even look outside into the natural world have measurably lower levels of stress than others who don’t. People going outdoors breathe better, sweat less, have better psychological health and wellbeing.

Taking breaks from endless zoom meetings, social media doomscrooling, (or even screen time editing photos) is associated with “attention restoration,” feeling more refreshed, better problem solving and professional performance.

Studies in Japan, Spain, and Portugal found that, during pandemic “lock downs,” people with access to green spaces showed less psychological distress and better overall health than those who did not. Other studies showed links between physical recreational activities outdoors and positive effects on mental health.

Being out in nature, or experiencing the natural world through photo and videos, makes people happier and more satisfied with life. And then there’s this. “In a review of many studies, researchers found that people more connected to nature (seeing themselves as part of nature and caring about the natural world) tended to have more positive feelings, vitality, and life satisfaction compared to those who were less connected.”

Maybe “forest bathing” is a step too far for you, but doctors in 34 states have written prescriptions to get outside and explore nature. Hospitals are putting large photos of nature scenes in their hallways and lounges. And every time you go out into nature to photograph wildlife, landscapes, conservation issues or other nature subjects you’re doing yourself a world of good and just might be helping improve the health of someone who gets immersed in the photos you took.

Now, can I include nature photography expenses as medical deductions on my taxes? Do they count towards my insurance deductibles? Um … probably not.

 Frank Gallagher headshotFrank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photography services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog.