The other day while riding my bike down a river trail lined with golden autumn cottonwoods, I somehow found myself wondering how my life would be without the beauty of nature. More specifically, my connection with nature that's happened from years of experiencing it through the mindset of a landscape photographer. The thoughts started to roll through my head as I pedaled along for miles, and I realized that I've come to center my life around being outside and connecting with nature. The time I spend outdoors is when I really get to thinking, it's the only time when some sort of clarity can come through.
I have another blog post that talks about how I got into landscapes here, but today I want to talk more about what landscape photography can do for all of us. We all have those things that keep us indoors and with a foggy mind, be it a day job, the television, or other things we stress out about. I know I have days where I need to package prints and keep up with computer work all day long, and after a while I find myself with crazy cabin fever needing to get out and see something! If it weren't for my burning desire to create new images I'm not sure I'd be able to overcome all those nagging thoughts that keep us tied up indoors or doing things that we don't really want to do. If I weren't following my passion of landscape photography I know without any doubt that I would still be working 5 to 6 days a week, coming home to unwind in front of some sort of electronic device, and spending my money on things that I don't need and don't make my happy. I will save some of this talk for another post, but the point is all I needed was to get outside!
We increasingly spend our lives avoiding our own thoughts. We have more ways and devices to keep us from asking those burning questions about our lives and finding our own direction. While I understand that we all like to wind down from a day of work, every time we fire up Netflix or scroll through the never-ending feed of social media we are just finding a way to block out our own thoughts and replace them with something prefabricated and more comforting. Sometimes I wonder if we will all be zombies staring at our little pocket computers as we wander aimlessly though life.
Here's where nature comes into play. Take a stroll into the forest or the mountains and just keep walking until that phone doesn't work anymore. This is where life begins. This is the only place where I can really think. Photography has pushed me out that door so many times and gotten me there. There's nothing like watching a sunrise from the side of a lake right at treeline: the mountains start to glow, the sky lights on fire with vibrant hues, the peaks reflect in the calm water. I've been lucky enough to experience this countless times, like in the image below from Rocky Mountain National Park this last August. Photography has no doubt helped me get out there, but sometimes it's gotten in the way by distracting me during nature's most amazing moments as I fiddle with sheets of film and technical whatnot. That's why after getting my sunrise shot I often push the camera aside and just engulf myself in nature. Without any other people there, my mind can fully become aware of my surroundings.
On that August morning I started to notice the gentle lapping of the water against the rocks, then even the calm breeze could be heard in the trees and felt on my exposed skin. And of course there's always the birds singing in the mountains. But in some places it's so quiet that your ears will ring. Eventually all you will hear is your thoughts. I think many people are scared of this moment. Not too many generations ago the majority of us lived in rural lands and spent our time outdoors. Now I can't go on a camping trip with someone telling me that I'm crazy and I'll get eaten by bears or die while hiking. When did we become so afraid of nature? Why do we try so hard to avoid it and the connection it brings to us?
I've determined that the connection with nature is absolutely essential to my life, and I would imagine that's true for many of us. Photography gets me out there, but many people get out there for their own reasons. To seek the thrill of the climb, to hike every trail they can find on a map, to find solitude and inner peace, or just to get that mountain high that's so hard to beat. I admire the people who spend that time connecting with nature and themselves. It's these people that can deal with their inner voices and thoughts. These people have conquered the beast and can answer to themselves.
How can landscape photography help all of us? I've found that landscape photographers are some of the most inspiring people in the world. Even though I'm out there all the time, it seems like every day I'm seeing images of a new place I've never heard of. These images push many people to get outside, to take dream vacations, and to get off their seats and take action in their lives. They continually drive me to explore new places. Whether or not the viewer is a photographer, I think the impact of beautiful landscapes can bring a little peace and motivation into everyone's lives. Sometimes it's a connection with a place they've been to, sometimes it's a place they aspire to be. Sometimes the image is so beautiful it just speaks to them. I've been grateful to watch the emotional reactions people have when they view my images, you can see it on their faces when they find the one that touches them.
This earth is huge and there's still plenty of wild places begging to be seen. No matter where you live it's important to get outside, walk that trail, climb that rock, or take in the grand view. There's always somewhere that you can do this. Let yourself connect with nature and it will always reward you, time and time again.
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