Natural aesthetics part II — Imagery of nature

5 min readAug 15, 2022

How we sense our surroundings determines how we feel about ourselves. Surrounded by nature, we are more prone to feel relaxed, inspired, and grounded in the moment. Inspired by all living species’ inherent appreciation of the grown environment, we explore how nature can inform technology and its aesthetics.

Table of contents:
Part I — Natural light
Part II — Imagery of nature
Part III — Natural colors
• Part IIII — Shapes in nature (coming)
• Part IIIII — Spatial concepts (coming)

Also worth reading: Do we appreciate humanity’s deeper aesthetic needs?

Part II—Employing images of nature to mirror the calming qualities of the grown environment

It is well known that spending time in nature is good for our mental and physical wellbeing. What is lesser known, is that even looking indirectly at nature — through an analog or digital simulation of it — could lower our stress levels and build resilience.

2.1. A view of nature through photos, paintings, and drawings

Indirect representations of nature can never be as effective as a direct human-nature interaction. Still, a low-cost way of infusing sterile and uninviting hospitals with healing qualities is swapping abstract art with naturalistic paintings or photos of nature. Being surrounded by art that represents and reflects nature can reduce the need for pain medication and decrease the length of hospital stays.

2.1.1. Photographs and illustrations of nature. Naturalistic representations of nature through photos and illustration might be one of the simplest ways to embed calming qualities into our work. Photos or illustrations of nature can be implemented in various forms. From full screen landscapes, to simply including an element of nature in a studio photo.

Even just a few elements of nature in a photo or illustration can feel calming.

2.1.2. Moving images with natural non-rhythmic stimuli. A drifting cloud, a humming bee, the fragrance from a flower carried by a gentle breeze: In nature, we are constantly experiencing spontaneous and brief moments of movements, scents, tastes, sounds, and skin sensations. These non-rhythmic and irregular events are a part of what breathes life into nature, and subconsciously experiencing them gives our lives a sense of nowness and presence. We already know them from meditation apps with “soothing soundscapes” of bird songs, waterfalls, and distant thunder. They have a calming effect on our busy minds and can have profound health and well-being benefits.

Similar to soundscapes of nature, also moving images encapsulating these non-rhythmic occurrences of nature can promote brain activity related to restorative processes. Compared to a photograph of nature, a video of the same scene could be more calming and induce a higher sense of presence.

Moving image with natural non-rhythmic stimuli. (Disclaimer: large file size, heavy compression)

2.1.3. Dynamic photos reflecting your time. Day turning to night. Spring transitioning to summer. Experiencing the ever-changing nature of the grown environment aids our circadian processes, connects us with time, and grounds us in the present.

In Section 1, we propose using location data to alter color, light, and shadow settings according to the shifting light as we orbit the sun. In combination with timed imagery that encapsulates even more complex circadian and seasonal shifts in surrounding nature, truly grounding and beautiful environments can be created. The way Apple’s dynamic desktop wallpapers change according to time of day, a website could have its photos captured in the morning light, shifting to midday brightness, and eventually fading into noon and golden hour before bedtime.

Photo changing according to time (Photo by Taylor Gray • Disclaimer: large file size, heavy compression)

2.2. Spatial view of nature

A key necessity of feeling engaged in our lives is the ability to take an active part in our surroundings. Although looking at a beautiful photo of nature sure is nice, we are merely spectators of a beautiful scene — a scene detached from our physical presence. Physically being in that same nature is engaging our senses on a completely different level. By embedding physical principles, we can create a more immersive representation of nature in digital landscapes.

2.2.1. Perspective shift in 2D-imagery of nature. As we move around in the physical world, objects close to us move faster than more distant objects. This effect is known as the parallax effect, a name given to an often criticized visual feature commonly used on websites.

But a parallax effect closer to the natural experience could radically enhance the engaging effect of nature photograph and illustration, and bring in one more layer of reality to digital landscapes. Through scroll behavior, head movement, or device tilting, we can enable a person to somewhat move within a photography. Facebook has its uncanny 3D photo feature. Refined experiences made for the right reasons would be nice to see.

Through scroll behavior, head movement, or device tilting, we can enable a person to somewhat move within a photograph. (Disclaimer: large file size, heavy compression)

2.2.2. Immersive natural experiences through VR. Standing on the outside of a scene looking in is very different from being inside of it. Through virtual reality, we can experience more engaging and convincing simulations of nature than through traditional 2D imagery. This is especially meaningful for those hindered from physically going out into nature: Six minutes of nature exposure spent using a VR headset has been found to create similar effects as the same amount of time spent in the actual outdoors.

Six minutes of nature exposure spent using a VR headset has been found to create similar effects as the same amount of time spent in the actual outdoors.

Design Ethics Director
Stein Haugen
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We launch and grow meaningful companies by helping them with strategic advice, brand development and digital product design.