Capturing the Environment

“Visualizing the Environment: Environmental Photography Workshop”

By Sasha L. Gora

This very blog is framed around the idea of seeing the woods, but what about photographing the woods? The common expression,“Can’t see the wood (or forest) for the trees,” communicates the sense of not being able to visualize the big picture. One is simply too close, literally or figuratively, to zoom out. But when photographing environments it can be very powerful to zoom in, to focus on just one tree, or even a branch or ribbon of bark, instead of the woods as a whole.

So how does one photograph the woods and the trees?

This is exactly what members of the RCC doctoral program discussed during the second week of July. Eight photographers, two hours with our cameras, one instructor, one garden, one forest, and one ant attack.

Alison Pouilot was our guide. A natural historian and environmental photographer based between Switzerland and Australia, Alison was generous in sharing the tricks of her trade.

In our two-day workshop, she led us, with cameras slung over our shoulders, through the gardens of Studienhaus Gut Schönwag and into the woods of Wessobrunn, a short train ride away from the RCC’s home in Munich.

But first we spent some time inside. She made us think about pictures, and our relationship to them as viewers, as photographers, and even as cameras.

“Why are you taking this shot?” she urged us to ask ourselves. Always. According to Alison, we need to think about why we are photographing this particular frame before pushing down the shutter button or tapping the camera icon on our phones.

As cameras have become more compact and easily transported—even being integrated into electronic devices that perform multiple other functions—and as digital storage has increased, it has become easier to take more and more pictures. Therefore, it is increasingly important to question why one is taking a picture in the first place.

Alison makes it clear that “environmental issues are usually complex and often abstract.” It is this scale that is both enticing and challenging. It is also why it is equally important to think about pictures before and as we take them. What does one frame capture that another one might not? How does the story change if we zoom in or out? How does a close up of a tree inform or inspire in a way that differs from a panorama of the woods? And what can a photograph do, or share, that words cannot?

“Most environmental issues operate on slow scales and are not necessarily visually detectable,” Alison argues. How does one photograph what is often difficult to see? This is what makes environmental photography so relevant. “Powerful images can distill important themes and assist wider audiences to grasp their complexities,” says Alison. “Our workshop explores the thought processes behind the creation of compelling images and visual stories.”

This is also what makes environmental photography exciting because, as Alison says, “people find new ‘frames’ or ‘overlays’ with which to visualize and the imagine the environments around us.”

What follows is a photo essay that features those different frames and overlays as captured by eight different photographers in one afternoon. The essay starts in the garden and moves to the woods. It zooms in and out and shows just how different the same time and place—the same environment—can look through eight different lenses.

Katrin Kleemann
Vikas Lakhani
Noemi Quagliati
Elena Torres Ruiz
Vikas Lakhani


Eveline de Smalen
Elena Torres Ruiz
Noemi Quagliati
Katrin Kleemann
Eveline de Smalen

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