Photography and the Art of Perception

As you enjoy time in nature, whether it’s within a nearby park park, a brief amble through your neighbourhood, meandering through a forest, or a more extended hiking adventure, have you ever paused to reflect on what captivates your attention during these outings? Are you attuned to the myriad details, both grand and subtle, in your surroundings, or do you find yourself moving forward with a singular focus on reaching your intended destination?

forager in the forest during sunset

One observation that stands out in my own experiences is the depth of my perception. I’ve cultivated a heightened awareness of the world around me, a trait I attribute, at least in part, to my passion for photography. This ongoing journey (I delved into photography in 2008) has not only trained my eyes, but also enriched my sensory awareness. Whether I was already quite aware, or if it developed as I delved into photography, is like the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma, but I lean towards the latter as the driving force.

Nature and photography opened my eyes and taught me to see.

But what exactly do I mean by “seeing” and “noticing” while out and about? Well, it all boils down to the art of perception. During a forest walk, I frequently find myself pausing to examine and capture many different subjects. A side effect of this is that I am constantly found at the back of a group during a hike. But I simply cannot just walk past what is happening around me! My focus is drawn to the details of the natural world, such as the variation in textures and patterns, the myriad of colors, the many different shapes of mushrooms, or droplets glistening on a leaf’s surface. These elements collectively beckon my attention, drawing me into a realm of constant discovery.

What is particularly noteworthy is that this heightened sensitivity is not something I consciously activate anymore; rather, it has evolved into a passive skill that operates in the background of my consciousness.

But why do I find it important to enhance one’s perceptiveness as a photographer?

Well, because photography, for me, goes beyond capturing just that one ”banger”. When I go out to shoot, I come back with a collection of images that capture more than just a majestic landscape or striking portrait; I have photos that show the subtle details in nature or the everyday activities of individuals, hands using a mushroom knife or someone tying their shoelaces.

It’s these small, in-between moments that I strive to capture because they connect those ‘wow’ shots into a larger narrative. They collectively paint a vivid picture of life and tell a story: the chill in the air that made your fingers tingle, the moist forest floor beneath your feet, the comforting warmth of freshly poured coffee, and even the dirt nestled under your nails after a mushroom-picking adventure.

These feelings and memories are often lost when we forget to focus on the details, and together those small things are what make up our life.

Whether you’re a photography novice, struggling to develop a keener eye, or simply someone who relishes the outdoors and wishes to document your experiences, the question remains: how can you enhance your perceptiveness?

My initial suggestion is to keep your camera at the ready, slung over your shoulder rather than stowed away. Secondly, make a deliberate effort to slow your pace. Give yourself the gift of time to savour the beauty of the great outdoors. And finally, for those seeking hands-on photography tips and guidance, I’m thrilled to introduce a new project I’ve been collaborating on with OM System, which I believe will pique your interest:

Come along with me as we embark on an email journey down ‘my path’

I have written down my story in the hopes that it can help inspire and educate others; where it all began and how I got to where I am. The wonders of nature that drew me in and taught me, not just about photography, but about myself. How exploring nature and photography, side by side, opened up my eyes and soul to something bigger and deeper. By signing up you will become an integral part of this journey. As you accompany us, we’ll provide guidance, tips, and exercises to help you refine your skills and transition from passive looking to active seeing.

In addition, on December 5th I will be hosting a 2 hour live webinar together with OM System. It is free of charge, so sign up if you want to learn even more from me and have the opportunity to ask any questions you might have!

Outdoor Adventures with
Photographer Rania Rönntoft

5 December 2023
18:00 – 20:00 (UTC/GMT +01:00 – Europe / London)

pine cones on a fir tree
a mushroom with a red cap in a green forest
golden chanterelles and juniper in a basket

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