So Much More


     It’s obvious that people have become disconnected from nature. The extensive time we spend on electronic devices, inside climate controlled houses, and living vicariously through others instead of being outside exploring the natural world for ourselves is clear evidence of that. And when people do visit the outdoors, few seem to understand how to behave in these sacred places in order to not disturb the fragile flora and fauna and ruin the experience for others. Litter, graffiti, and noisy music are all clear signs of a widespread common lack of understanding and reverence for wilderness.

     By now I am sure we have all considered that photography has become a huge contributor to this. People traveling in hordes to replicate a popular shot, wanting to present an adventurous life on social media that others will envy, and now places that were once secret and hidden are becoming more accessible and well known. But what you may not have considered is how the photographs themselves have created a distorted and unrealistic representation of nature for the rest of the world–even ones by photographers that genuinely care for and respect nature.

"Eldritch Woods"

     If you look through your social media feed, what you are most likely to see are images of colorful sunsets, impeccable scenery, and epic landscapes. While these kinds of pretty images indeed serve a purpose and effectively portray the beauty of nature, they only represent one small facet of nature. But for people who are unfamiliar with nature–spending most of their time in offices, cities, or in front of screens–and only able to experience it through photographs, this becomes their entire idea of nature. Of course photographs are not the only contributors to the highly romanticized idea most of us have of nature. Movies, books, zoos, and different kinds of propaganda all feed our false perception of wildlife and wilderness. 

“A weed is but an unloved flower”

– Ella Wheeler Wilcox

"Ghost Dance"

     As someone who has been fortunate enough to be able to spend thousands of hours in nature–sleeping in the wilderness, observing animals and landscapes firsthand for more than just a few minutes–I have become familiar with so many other sides of nature other than just the pretty or sublime. Nature can also be strange, grotesque, humorous, horrible, frightening, cruel, uncomfortable, tense, complex, simple, chaotic, meaningless, and even drab. I have come to love all these different sides of nature, as I understand it would no longer be nature without them. And both as a naturalist and photographer, I have come to appreciate and even seek out all of these different kinds of experiences and scenes other than just the serenely perfect and comfortable moments.

     Studies have shown that when we are presented with the same thing over and over again, it impacts us less and less each time. No matter how attractive something may be, the mind eventually becomes desensitized, as it learns to pay less attention to things the more we see them. By having a limited focus on sharing pretty, serene moments in nature, you are not only doing nature a disservice–by lessening the emotional impact it will have on someone that sees a similar scene while in the

outdoors–you are also diluting the emotional impact that your images have on viewers, as they’ll care less and less about each image they see.

     It’s only normal that we strive to create superficially beautiful photographs more than any other kind. People nowadays, upon not liking how something looks, have come up with the capability to change it. Plastic surgery, cuisine, medicine, public parks, and image manipulation all show that we are more driven to change our surroundings than to change the way we see our surroundings. Anyone who is unhappy with their body or environment could fix it with a shift in perspective, since the problem doesn’t lie in how something objectively looks. Whether something is beautiful, ugly, annoying, frustrating, relaxing, stressful, etc. depends entirely on the idea that we have about it. These are subjective statements one makes about something, not an inherent characteristic, and can change with time and experience.

     True acceptance is unconditional–when you love something in all of its forms. Picking and choosing your favorite aspects of something and wanting to alter or discard the others to fit your preference is not loving it genuinely as it is. Owning an animal and expecting it to behave how you want, and not how it naturally does, is cruel and unloving. 


     A true naturalist feels that nature is best when left all on its own, untamed and wild. Even if that means it may not be the most comfortable place at times, or if it may be dangerous and frightening. A real lover of wild places knows that their wildness, their essence, and their spirit, are lost as soon as we begin to 'improve' them, as they will no longer be natural.

“I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American, if he can travel at all, should see.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

"Gnarled Beauty"

     The more realistically you present nature in your photographs, the more people will be able to connect with nature itself. Not just a superficial, romanticized idea of how we think it ought to be, but with how nature truly is. By realistic I’m not just suggesting that you avoid making outlandish composites or extreme image manipulation, changing things to look nothing like they do in reality. What I am trying to stress is that if you want people to care more about nature, you should strive to share a wider range of images that showcase not only the typical, pretty sunsets and scenery, but also the many other sides that so few are now familiar with. After all, there is still a certain beauty to be found even in horror, strangeness, or violence, if we only know how to look for it.

If this article resonated with you, I would highly recommend the essay

"Raw Nature" from my eBook: Spirit of the Wild.

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