Nature Photography Can Make You Happier

January 4, 2021

Most of us spend our days staring at a screen, be it our phones, a tablet, or a computer monitor. According to a 2016 report from Nielsen, the average American spends more than 10 hours per day staring at a screen. Our increasing reliance on technology means that on average, each of us are spending less time outdoors than ever before. Yet scientists continue to compile more and more evidence on the benefits of getting out in nature.

This is one of the reasons I'm a landscape photographer. As much as I love capturing what I see - the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, towering mountains, the power of the ocean - for me, it's as much about experiencing nature as anything. I find I feel better emotionally and mentally, after witnessing a sunrise, or getting out for a hike in the woods, or photographing on a beach somewhere. Even when I don't have my camera with me, those moments outside refresh me, enabling me to handle whatever stresses life throws at me.

Gorham Mountain Autumn

Gorham Mountain looks out on the Atlantic Ocean as Otter Cliff stands in the distance on an autumn morning in Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine.

You Can Actually Fool Your Brain

Interestingly enough, just looking at nature causes your brain to react in a similar fashion to being outside. While in my mind, there's no substitute for the combination of the sound of waves crashing against the rocks, the feel of a gentle breeze, and the song of birds while the clouds glow with the light of the rising sun, it's cool to know that there is a shortcut we can take to get that same healthy, happy feeling when we need it, isn't it?

Maroon Bells II

Maroon Peak stands in the distance as colorful aspens cover a hillside on an autumn morning near Aspen, Colorado.

Studies have shown that looking at photos of nature actually improves our mental health. Most of us would rather walk in a park than on a treadmill in our living room. Or hike up a mountain than climb a stair master. Or ride a bike along a country road than ride a stationary bike. That is because nature lowers our stress levels and helps us feel happy.

I know that personally, when I start to feel stressed and depressed and angry, it's time for me to grab my camera and get outside. I'm reminded of the bumper sticker I've seen on occasion: "A bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at the office!" I feel the same about any day I head out with my camera. Even if I don't come back with any photos, it's been a good day.

So, I'm sure we can all agree that nature and the great outdoors is good for our mental health. We all need regular doses of nature to keep us happy. And now that we have all of this evidence showing that just looking at photos evokes a similar response, it's probably a good idea to include nature photography on your walls- at home or in your office. Surrounding yourself with nature, even when inside, will help calm you, rejuvenate you, reduce stress, and even help heal you, while providing the same mental boost you'd get from going for a walk at the local park, or along the shoreline of your favorite beach.

Sunset at Two Lights

The waters of Casco Bay rush in over the rocky shoreline of Cape Elizabeth, Maine at Two Lights State Park.

Nature's Healing Powers

It's really quite amazing: in this day and age, where modern medicine is the first place we turn when we're not feeling well, that sometimes the answer is simply "get outside". A Japanese study found that people who spent 40 minutes walking through a forest had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that is involved with both immune system function and blood pressure.

In addition, it has been found that city dwellers are more likely to have mood and anxiety disorders than people who live in the country. Knowing this, as well as our physiological response to nature, it's no surprise that a large swath of Manhattan, some of the most sought after real estate in the world, is dedicated to a park.

It was a peaceful morning on Lake Maurepas as I waded waist-deep in the waters with my camera and tripod to catch the first light on the cypresses in the swamp.

It was a peaceful morning on Lake Maurepas as I waded waist-deep in the waters with my camera and tripod to catch the first light on the cypresses in the swamp.

Further, the International Journal of Health Geographics has shown in a study that nature images can even provide protection from having stroke, and residents who live in areas with fewer trees have a higher risk of stroke mortality. So that landscape print you hang on your wall might literally help save your life! Unfortunately, I haven't had any luck in getting the insurance companies to cover purchases of fine art nature prints.

In reading these studies, I suddenly understood why hospitals such as Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, have over 30 of my own photographs adorning their walls in various waiting areas, hallways and offices.

Kidding Aside...

Every time I head out with my camera to make my next photograph, I experience these healing qualities of nature. I know how it improves my mood, reduces my stress, because the people around me comment on the difference in me when I come back. I want to bring that feeling to you, for your home or your office. I've long been a believer in science and believe the long list of studies that show how nature imagery contributes to our well-being - and I'm proud that I might contribute in some small way to those benefits - health or otherwise - that come from owning one or more of my prints.

Ultimately, my goal is to share my view of places many people never get to see in person. Not everyone gets to wake up to a majestic view of the mountains, or a view of the ocean from their bedroom window. But as studies show, the brain can be fooled. So if your home is filled with views of Denali or the Outer Banks, in the form of fine art prints, and it's the first thing you see when you open your eyes, didn't you wake up to that view as well?

Delicate Dawn

Delicate Arch greets the morning on a summer day in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.

Clearing Storm in the Badlands

The setting sun shines through the remaining clouds from a summer thunderstorm in the badlands of North Dakota at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe.

Sand Harbor Tahoe

The waters of Lake Tahoe gently wash around the rocky shoreline at Sand Harbor.

Transform your surroundings with Rick Berk's Sand Harbor Tahoe fine art landscape print.

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