Landscape photography, nature and well-being

Landscape photography is beneficial to self-development, self-discovery and eudaimonic wellbeing. To the photographer, that is, and hopefully to others as well. In particular, landscape photography and post-photography processing can connect the photographer with nature. Research on well-being has explored two general perspectives: a hedonic approach, in which happiness and well-being are about pleasure attainment and pain avoidance, and a eudaimonic approach, in which meaning, self-realization and the degree to which a person is fully functioning are important. This post explores the links between landscape photography, nature connectedness and well-being

The beneficial role of nature connectedness in well-being has been suggested in recent publications:

The relationship between nature relatedness and anxiety, Martyn, Patricia, Brymer, Eric., Journal of Health Psychology, 2016, 21: 1436-1445.

Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well-being and connectedness with nature. Cervinka, Renate, Roderer, Kathrin, Hefler, Elisabeth. Journal of Health Psychology, 2012, 17: 379-388.

Flourishing in nature: A review of the benefits of connecting with nature and its application as a wellbeing intervention. Capaldi, C. A., Passmore, H.-A., Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Dopko, R. L.  International Journal of Wellbeing, 2015, 5(4), 1-16.

Natural environments have a stress-reducing or restorative influence, a form of homeostasis, while urban environments have the opposite effect.  Roger S Ulrich et al. (1991) showed 120 participants a stressful movie, and then videotapes of different natural and urban settings. Stress recovery measures were obtained from self-ratings of affective states and a battery of physiological measures: heart period, muscle tension, skin conductance and pulse transit time, a non-invasive measure that correlates with systolic blood pressure.

Recovery was “faster and more complete when people experienced natural rather than urban environments. The pattern of findings indicated that responses to nature had a salient parasympathetic nervous system component; however, there was no evidence of pronounced parasympathetic involvement with urban settings.”  Findings were consistent in showing the restorative influence of nature to produce a shift towards a positively-toned feelings and sustained attention.

Liz Brewster and Andrew Cox study the connection between involvement in digital communities and well-being by examining ‘digital daily practice’. Digital daily practices involves doing one thing – exercise, photography or writing – every day and sharing it online. They explored the digital daily practice, photo-a-day, to understand the ‘affordances’ it offers for well-being. They found that: “Photo-a-day is not a simple and uncomplicated practice; rather it is the complex affordances and variance within the practice that relate it to well-being. We conclude that this practice has multifaceted benefits for improving well-being.”

C Yuill and colleagues highlight that “human social agents are embedded in particular landscapes and it is in landscapes that environmental changes are experienced, which can have implications for wellbeing.”  They study  how environmental change impacts on health and well-being. They analysed the connections between landscape, environment and wellbeing in Xuan Thuy National Park in north Vietnam (see photograph below). This area is in a precarious coastal region where extreme weather events can impact on the wellbeing of both humans and other living things. They state: “Landscapes can be protective of wellbeing or can be affected by rises in temperature, changes in sea level or extreme weather events which exert serious negative implications for wellbeing.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-16 at 11.23.21 Reproduced from Yuill et al. 2018.

The harmony between humans and the environment is under significant threat.  The natural level of homeostasis is being disrupted. This disruption is causing increases in anxiety, depression and chronic stress. These processes in turn have a domino effect on many physical indicators of well-being including overweight and obesity. The current threats to homeostasis between human well-being and the physical landscape cannot be underestimated. The landscape photographer plays a key role in documenting landscape change.  Photographs are a significant tool in rebalancing disequilibrium between human beings and the natural environment. The ultimate goal of all living beings is the preservation of homeostasis. Environmental activists use photography in their struggle for conservation.

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