How Nature Photography Can Improve Mental & Physical Health

Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Body with Nature Photography: The Science Behind the Serenity

When you need to recharge, where do you go? What do you do? If your answer included a hike in the woods or a weekend in the mountains, you’re not alone. When conditions are ideal, most of us enjoy spending time outside. While many of us feel nature’s calming effect, though, few of us stop to consider why it’s so powerful.

Thankfully, researchers have been aware of this phenomenon for decades, and scientists from all over have sought to learn more about it. Their findings have been both affirming and interesting. Some have also been surprising. For example, did you know the simple act of observing nature can benefit both your mental health and physical wellbeing? That’s right; you don’t even have to be in nature to feel the calm wash over you. Looking at landscape photography is enough to reap the benefits.

I first became aware of the power of nature images by listening to one of my favorite podcasts. In an episode of Hidden Brain that was released back in 2018, Ming Kuo discusses the positive impact of nature on both the body and the mind. Amazingly, these effects have been witnessed in those who are merely looking at photographs of nature, and not just those who are physically outside.

An early winter storm left snow on and dramatic clouds over Capitol Peak near Aspen, Colorado showcasing golden yellow aspen leaves and trees in fall / autumn i

A colorful hillside filled with aspen trees in front of Colorado 14er Capitol Peak.

The Psychological and Physiological Benefits of Immersing Yourself in Nature

Nature has long been recognized as a source of beauty, inspiration, and healing. A short walk in the woods on a sunny day is enough to convince most of us that being outdoors feels good. Over the past few decades, though, scientists have sought to identify the concrete ways in which nature impacts health, and you can be sure they found a few.

In the early 1980’s, for example, researchers at a small-town hospital in Pennsylvania made an observation. For some reason, patients with similar illnesses and prognoses were having markedly different outcomes, depending on which room of the hospital they were in. The only difference between the rooms? Some overlooked a courtyard with trees, while others faced a featureless brick wall. The patients in the rooms facing the brick wall required more narcotic pain medications post-surgery and were more likely to experience complications than those who were overlooking the trees. This supported the conclusion that viewing nature, whether through a window or in a frame, can improve health.

Many studies
have been conducted since, and they all yielded similar results. At the end of the day, observing nature is good for human health. Simply looking at a tree (or a photograph of one) can lower cortisol levels, for example, which reduces the risk of heart disease in the long run.

In the podcast mentioned above, Kuo also discusses the positive effects that nature can have on the immune system. In her research, she found "images of nature reduce sympathetic nervous activity and increase parasympathetic activity (e.g., Gladwell et al., 2012; Brown et al., 2013), restore attention (e.g., Berto, 2005), and promote healing from surgery (Ulrich, 1984)."
A photograph of a waterfall found in Iceland that I have always personally found to be soothing.

When You Can’t Get Outside, Look at Landscape Photography

You might not be able to go hiking as often as you like, but you can still reap the benefits of nature every day by looking at landscape photography. When you immerse yourself in nature—whether physically or visually—you’re reminded of the vastness and beauty of the world, which can help put your problems into perspective. This is especially useful for those who are struggling with anxiety or depression. By looking at photographs of nature, we can ground ourselves in a way that promotes peace and relaxation.

Imagine an office space with a large mural of one of Colorado’s beautiful vistas. Now imagine a white brick wall. Which one do you think will inspire those who occupy the building more? Which one will contribute more to their mental health and physical wellbeing over time?

If you said the mural, you’re right. As we touched on above, observing a natural landscape can increase concentration, reduce stress, curb anxiety, and even combat depression. In fact, people who are regularly exposed to nature have better outlooks in general, which ultimately enhances every aspect of their lives.

Research into this phenomenon has been extensive, and the evidence is piling up with every new study. Something in us longs for the beauty of the natural world, and it seems to be in our best interests to satiate that urge in whatever way we can.

Red Mountain near Red Mountain Pass, reflected in a high mountain lake near Silverton, Colorado at sunrise in the San Juan Mountains.
A blue Colorado mountain scene brings a calming effect on the viewer.

Find Serenity Whenever You Need It in Beautiful Landscape Photographs

Could your home, business, or office use more landscape photography? To find peace wherever you spend the majority of your time, consider hanging some of my images. I want to help everyone reap the benefits of nature, and I do so one photograph at a time. As a mountaineer, I’m able to shoot in some of the hardest-to-reach locations in Colorado. Learn more about ordering prints here.

A wilderness panorama of the San Juan Mountains in fall / autumn with aspen trees, including Uncompahgre Peak, Dunsinane Mountain, Coxcomb Peak, Precipice Peak,
A view of one of nature's greatest scenes - fall foliage, trees, valleys, and high mountain peaks.
Posted in Articles and tagged Psychology.