Blue Seas, Blue Mindfulness
Despite living on the Peninsula for several years now, it still often feels like it is a world away from the rest of the country and it is little wonder that summer brings a steady stream of visitors seeking to experience this beautiful, remote, and unspoilt corner of the Scottish Highlands. I often say to visitors that it has a bit of everything that Scotland has to offer, with rugged mountains, beautiful lochs and ancient woodlands, but it is its dramatic and stunning coastline that holds the biggest draw for me and features most in my photography
Take this month’s image, which was shot on a beautifully sunny day in July out at Sanna, looking north across the bay to the Small Isles beyond. On days such as this, with bright sunlight overhead, the sea takes on an intense range of blue hues ranging from light blues of the shallow water to the dark blues of the deeper water, all caused by the way light interacts with the seawater.
You see, daylight is made up of many different visible colours, ranging from reds and oranges to blues and violets, with the reds and oranges having the longest wavelengths and the blues and violets having the shortest. As water molecules are better at absorbing light with longer wavelengths, they absorb much of the red, orange, yellow and green light. The bluer colours, with shorter wavelengths, are less likely to be absorbed and so are reflected by the white sand on the seabed to give the sea its blue hues.
In shallow water, there are fewer water molecules to absorb the red, orange, yellow and green light, so more of it reaches the seabed to be reflected with the blues and violets and give either clear or slightly blue water. However, the deeper the water becomes, the more the reds, oranges, yellows and greens are absorbed and the deeper blue the colour of the water becomes, until you reach the point where no visible light can reach the seabed and the water becomes completely dark.
I find something quite captivating about the aquatic blue hues of the sea at places such as Sanna and I’m sure that this is reflected in my affinity for water and for photographing the sea and the coastline. In fact, it has been documented that our affinity for water is reflected in our near-universal attraction to the colour blue and that we associate this colour with qualities like calm, openness, depth and wisdom.
The link between the two has even been developed into something called “Blue Mind Science”, the study of aquatic environments’ health benefits that was first popularised by marine biologist Dr Wallace Nichols in his 2014 book, “Blue Mind”. Simply put, Blue Mind is a mildly meditative state that people fall into when they are near, in, under or on water and some of the physical and mental health benefits include:
So, if you’re seeing red, feeling angry, anxious, and stressed, then head to the coast for some “Blue Mindfulness”. I can highly recommend it.
My Mind Medicine
It’s mid-February and the end of this last month of winter is fast approaching. The evenings are getting lighter and my thoughts are turning to Spring and the sense of renewal, hope and happiness that it brings. The image below was taken out at Smirisary, an old crofting village about two miles to the west of Glenuig, on a Spring evening and shows a tree adorned with the fresh green growth that encapsulates these “Spring” feelings for me. It was a beautiful evening and I felt a true sense of calm contentment as I sat there listening to the call of a nearby cuckoo while waiting for the right moment to press the shutter button. I was left thinking that it is little wonder that the benefits of photography on mental wellbeing have been well studied and documented.
I spent much of my childhood outdoors exploring the rolling Scottish Borders countryside and have many fond memories of the adventures that this entailed. Back then, I’m sure I never gave much thought to the benefits of time outdoors and it wasn’t until I moved to Glasgow for work that I started to appreciate how differently I felt when I was in the countryside. Day trips for a walk in the hills became a welcome relief from both the pace of city centre living and the pressures of my work. A camera always accompanied me and, as the years passed, photography became a bigger and bigger part of the experience, acting as my “mind medicine”, encouraging me to slow down, look carefully and really appreciate my surroundings.
Studies by researchers at Lancaster University into the effects of photography on mental wellbeing back this up. They found that the act of finding a subject, trying different compositions and changing positions to alter the light requires such focus that it can be a meditative task, or an act of mindfulness that allows you to focus not on your outside concerns, but solely on the moment and the task at hand. I find this with landscape photography because it requires a great deal of patience to sit on a hillside, having framed a composition and wait for the right light and the perfect moment to press the shutter button. During this time, nothing else is on my mind and I feel completely detached from any stresses and pressures that life might hold.
Photography can also provide an artistic outlet, which many people may not have through any other means, and other studies have found that immersing yourself in a creative activity elevates mood while lowering both anxiety and stress hormone levels. Additionally, there are the general physical benefits of going for a walk with a camera, with the desire to capture images translating into the motivation to get outdoors at times when you would otherwise remain at home.
Finally, please do not think that landscape photography is limited to people with lots of expensive equipment. You will probably have a perfectly capable camera in your pocket because the quality of smartphone cameras nowadays allows almost anyone to capture some good images. So why don’t you get out into the beautiful landscape that surrounds us here on the Peninsula and try it out. With the sun still low enough in the sky to give us some lovely light, it is the perfect time of year to start. Get out there, take some pictures and feel all the better for it.
Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan. Get in touch for photography tuition, tours and print sales.