Do you see what I see?

{Full Moon on August 13, 2011 over the Driftless Region}

In the Summer of 2000 I had one of the best summer jobs ever. A member of the Forest Lab Intern Program (FLIP), sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, at the Cable Natural History Museum. The summer was filled with science and nature-based field trips. I learned about the geology of NW Wisconsin, how to do prescribed burns at the Moquah Barrens, shadowed radiologists, conducted a herpetology study, and even got to howl for wolves. During the end of the summer program, we spent a night camped out at the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, MN. We took howling for wolves to a new level…we camped within a gated area in the wolf enclosure.

I’m not sure why this memory is so vivid to me. But it is. As we sat around the campfire that night, we were in deep philosophical debate {or as deep as a bunch of high schoolers can get}. Our adult teacher/philosopher, Randy, was guiding us through this discussion. I believe we touched on worm holes and time travel, even. The part that sticks with me the most, 11 years later, is when we all looked into the fire…burning hot blues and greens and purples…and I asked…”Do you see what I see?”

The fire was hot, with licks of reds, yellows and oranges spitting up with the sparks. And near the fuel, the wood, I could see darker colors–blues and purples and greens. We had learned about the UV spectrum and colors and color blindness that summer…but what came to mind at that moment was–what if MY perception of red is different than yours? What if my red looks like your green? Imagine how different our world could look through someone else’s eyes.

As I share my visual world with all of you through my photography, I constantly come back to this. Do you see what I see in my photographs? Do you feel what I feel?

Interestingly, you probably don’t. {And I feel so much better knowing I’m not the only person to ask these questions.} Researchers have discovered that our language, our emotions, and our surroundings can impact how we see color. Intrigued? Watch this video that explains it in much better words than I can.


“In thinking about, whether do you see what I see, the answer really depends on what it is we’re looking at. So if what we’re looking at is something that has been shaped by evolution itself, then yes, we probably see something very similarly. But if it’s something shaped by our own individual experiences, then no, we can see the world very differently. What’s surprising for us, is that our individual experiences, the differences in the way I feel at this moment, can alter something as simple as color. So I can see colors differently, based on how I feel. What that means, is that the colors hardwired into our evolutionary history, well, we probably see these the same. But for the others, like the color you see in someone’s eyes when you’re in love, or the colors you choose when you’re feeling sad…when it comes to these, you’re probably not seeing what I see.”


Within this context, I am drawn back to my nature photography. It is something that has been shaped by evolution, yes. So we should all see the same moon in the same way. However, when I add clouds and colors of the sunset to the frame, I’ve now added in the peace, serenity, and calm I felt when growing up on Nelson Lake. A memory and experience that will cause me to look at the world around me in a different way.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for these differences. It simply adds fuel to the fire for my photography. I strive to capture nature in a way that brings peace and the look in someone’s eyes that shows love.  And maybe what I see will be just like what you see…

A Midweek Pick Me Up :-) » Driftless Living Photography | Southwestern Wisconsin Lifestyle Photography | Annika Swenson - January 24, 2012 - 7:20 pm

[…] you ever wonder if how people see or hear things is different than you? Kinda similar to this post I wrote last year. Our brain is capable of some pretty neat stuff! Check this out (via […]