Monday, 9 March 2015

Connecting to nature: photography and inspiration

David North, Head of People and Wildlife

Did you see the digital image of the weasel ‘riding’ a green woodpecker in flight? Well more than 12 million people viewed it in the first week it was on the web so there’s every chance you did! Amazing wasn’t it? A once in a lifetime observation of nature shared with millions.

This got me thinking about the power of photography to engage people with nature through taking images and sharing them.

Pied wagtaill perched on David's North car wing mirror

It's only very recently that so many of us carry cameras nearly all the time – cameras on our mobile phones, or small digital cameras that quite often enable both macro close ups and ‘high power zooms’ to be taken on one small device. Never before have so many people had the equipment to be ‘nature photographers’ combined with the opportunity to share images almost instantly, and not just with friends and family but with literally millions of people online. It’s said that as many ‘photos’ are taken every two minutes today as were taken in the whole of the nineteenth century!

Grassland jewels, photo by David North
I think this revolution in imagery does have potential, in several different ways, to help reconnect us to nature. Firstly the act of taking an image means looking – and to be a naturalist is also all about looking – nature is all around us if we have eyes to see and perhaps sometimes, even for someone already passionate about nature like me, the camera encourages me to look and helps me ‘see’.

Dorothea Lange said, ‘A camera is a tool for learning to see without a camera.’  How often have I photographed flowers only to discover back home that the image includes small insects that I hadn’t even noticed at the time. This certainly inspires me to look more carefully and makes really try and ‘see’ next time I’m looking at a plant in close up. 

Carrying a camera also simply encourages observation. Every time someone takes a photo they have found something that interests them: photography is surely the art of observation and encourages us to see the interesting and the detail in ‘ordinary’ places. Of course the nature around us in these ‘ordinary’ places, perhaps a garden or a park, or just a ‘simple’ patch of grass or tree, is by no means ordinary. We live in an extraordinary world and sometimes it takes a small digital camera with a macro lens to remind us that’s the case.

Small copper, photo by David North
Nature is full of extraordinary moments, maybe not ‘flying weasels’ but everyday there are truly amazing things, small miracles, happening around us. And more and more of these, a sunset turning a sky to fire, or dew forming in a flower’s rim at the start of a new day, are able to be shared with the people we know and love but also with people we may never meet but who visit Facebook or Flickr or any of the huge number of websites where images can be shared.

Is it possible that the growth in digital photography can inspire more people to look at the world around us in new ways – to see detail that would otherwise be missed?  To capture the ephemeral and fleeting and allow it to be wondered at long after the moment has passed and in places far away but connected digitally across the world.

People are sharing their experiences more and more, and many of those do relate to the natural world; perhaps not surprisingly as it’s our habitat too. The possibility to instantly record and then share has huge potential to profoundly alter the ways people are experiencing and being inspired by nature.

The famous pioneer landscape photographer Ansel Adams said, ‘It is my intention to present – through the medium of photography – intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to the spectators.’

Grey dagger moth larva, photo by David North
My hope is that images like the one of the weasel and the woodpecker which reach millions do have the possibility of inspiring a sense of wonder, meaning and fascination with nature. I know that my own small camera has helped me to observe nature in new ways and taught me new ways to look. Being inspired by nature may be less about the things we see than about the way we see them – so let’s see the extraordinary in nature around us and let’s use this new digital revolution to share our inspiration in nature with the world.

Share your image of Norfolk's wildlife on our online gallery and be inspired by what others have seen.

1 comment:

  1. Whatever did we do without digital cameras? I suspect we either wasted huge amounts of time & money on indifferent results, or became technically expert and rather smug.
    Being able to grab effective images of nature allows us to get more satisfaction from outdoor adventures.