Walking: Catalyst of Emotions in Landscape Photography
Updated: Nov 8
While walking is beneficial for everyone, it is especially relevant for landscape photography. This field often requires a deep connection with the natural environment. Through the act of walking, emotions are heightened, senses are awakened, and inspiration is amplified.
I wish to add a chapter to a topic I have already discussed in a previous article: Walking, Active Meditation and Tool of Inspiration in Photography. After reading several fascinating books and conducting some research on the subject, this article focuses on a specific question:
How can walking specifically enrich the practice of landscape photography?
The analysis below is the result of years of daily walking practice, with a camera in my pocket or slung over my shoulder. It is a personal observation that correlates the importance of physical effort to my photographic output. My best memories, as well as my best shots, have always been taken when physical effort (here, walking) preceded these moments of captured light.
Covering approximately 100 to 120 km of walking per week for over 5 years, there have been numerous situations that have allowed me to observe this specificity. It is as if the awakening of the senses facilitated by walking enhances my perception of elements, in complete harmony with the environment in which I operate.
In my bookcase: 50 Health Benefits of Morning walking.
I have indeed revisited these examples that have marked my journey as a photographer in other articles, such as the Huangshan mountains in China, the Henro pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku in Japan, and many other situations (check my previous posts).
It is therefore undeniable that the sensory and emotional mechanisms that come into play when walking have a direct impact on the perception of the world and our ability to think differently. It's as if the capacity for observation and listening is greatly amplified. I draw three main principles from all of this. Here they are.
1. Deepening the Relationship with the Landscape
Walking through a landscape is not just a means of moving from point A to point B, but also a rich and complex way to engage with the world around us, from both a philosophical and scientific standpoint.
Walking provides a way to organically explore the natural environment. Rather than simply stopping to take a photo and leaving, the photographer can walk through the landscape, giving time to perceive subtle details, understand changes in light, and even become familiar with the local fauna and flora.
The photographer can find a variety of viewpoints by traversing a given environment. The slowness of walking allows the time to find unique perspectives that may not be visible from a static viewpoint.
My equipment: GITO Adventury. The ultimate backpack for photo hiking.
Studies, such as the one published in "Environmental Science & Technology" in 2010, have shown that exposure to nature substantially improves concentration and attentional capacity.
This notion is corroborated by research in environmental psychology, such as those conducted by Kaplan and Kaplan in 1989, which suggest that interacting with diverse natural environments can increase creativity.
From a philosophical standpoint, walking can be considered a meditative practice and a way to deeply connect with one's environment. Philosophers like Henry David Thoreau have written about the value of walking in nature, asserting that it allows for a form of communion with the world around us. The simple act of walking engages multiple senses, which creates a multi-sensory experience and enriches our relationship with the landscape.
In a more scientific context, walking activates specific regions of the brain related to spatial memory and navigation, notably the hippocampus. This activation can strengthen our sense of location and our understanding of space. Additionally, physical movement releases endorphins, which can improve our mood and increase our level of engagement with the landscape.
In my bookcase: Mastering Landscape.
The kinesthetic aspect of walking, the interaction of the body with the ground and air, tangibly anchors us in the environment. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a French philosopher, delved into this subject by explaining how our perception is intimately linked to our physical embodiment in a given space.
Lastly, walking offers a different temporality, allowing for a form of contemplation that is often absent in our fast-paced daily lives. This "temporal deceleration" provides time for the mind to reflect, to absorb, and to merge with the environment. It offers the opportunity to perceive often overlooked details: the texture of the ground, the complexity of plant forms, or the movement of water and wind.
2. Physiological and Mental Impacts
The act of walking releases endorphins, which consequently improves mood and mental clarity. According to a 2018 study in "Frontiers in Psychology," physical exercise can have a positive effect on cognition and creativity. This improvement in mental state can, in turn, positively affect how the photographer interacts with their environment. This is particularly relevant in the context of landscape photography, where the evocation of emotion is often a key element.
Walking has long been considered a beneficial activity for creativity, and this is not without scientific basis. From a physiological standpoint, for example, walking increases blood circulation, including to the brain, which enhances the supply of oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. This improved circulation contributes to clearer thinking and better problem-solving ability.
In my bookcase: Walking with the Seasons.
On a neurological level, walking has shown an increase in neurotransmitter levels such as serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with mood and well-being. These neurotransmitters can play a role in a creative mindset by reducing stress and increasing openness to new ideas. Additionally, walking activates the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory and imagination, which can be beneficial for the creative process.
From a philosophical perspective, walking allows for a form of "mental drift," a meandering of thought that can be highly productive for creativity. Thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche have emphasized the benefits of walking for complex and creative thought. Nietzsche himself said, "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking." This mental drift facilitated by walking can be seen as a moment where the mind can freely explore new and unconventional ideas.
Walking also provides the opportunity for a constructive pause in our often frenetic pace of life. This time can be used for reflection and introspection, two key elements of the creative process. This concept is rooted in Stoicism and other philosophical traditions that value meditation and reflection as means to achieve a better understanding of oneself and the world.
3. Improvement of Patience and Attention
Landscape photography requires patience to wait for the ideal moment, whether for specific weather conditions or particular natural light. Walking can then serve as active meditation, helping to condition the mind to be more patient and attentive. This practice can be particularly useful in long-term projects where the photographer regularly returns to the same site.
The act of walking and the practice of landscape photography share a crucial common element: the importance of patience and attention to detail. Philosophically, walking can be considered a form of active meditation (see my previous article on this subject), a state in which the mind and body are simultaneously engaged in exploring the environment. Just as the landscape photographer must be attentive to subtle variations in light, climate, and terrain, walking demands a form of sustained attention to our immediate environment and internal sensations.
My equipment: URTH Filter Kit. High-quality filters for landscape photography.
Walking creates a space for observation and contemplation, thereby strengthening our ability to be patient and to wait for the "decisive moment," to borrow a term from photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. This moment is when all elements align to create a particularly powerful or moving image or experience.
Walking, as active meditation, trains us to become more attentive observers and more patient beings. By immersing ourselves in the present moment, we cultivate a form of mindfulness that is not only beneficial for our well-being but also particularly suited for photographic production. This quality of attention and patience is crucial for capturing the complexity and fleeting beauty that present themselves to us.
In the context of landscape photography, walking serves not only as a tool for better mental and physical health but also as a means of deepening the relationship with the natural environment we observe. It allows for complete immersion in the landscape, encourages the discovery of new perspectives, and can even have a positive impact on the emotional state of the photographer.
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