Why Do We Resonate?

three images of golden leaves of autumn

“In the art world, creativity involves aesthetic sensibility, emotional resonance and a gift for expression.”
| Edward de Bono

When I look back at my pictures, I often ask myself why I took them. What was the trigger? Why did I respond to that trigger? What did I ultimately make of the image? Does my result correspond to what it originally triggered in me? There are often silent processes going on within us around the unconscious that are responsible for making images. In this post, I want to go into the idea of resonance and try to answer some of these questions to bring it more into our awareness.

When Do We Resonate and When Don’t We?

Currently, I am in the mountains in a cabin spending a creative retreat here. Each day I wander through the beautiful world around me, trying to discover new, winding paths and letting nature take over. Today I hiked through an early autumn landscape. The first larches show yellow needles, plants turn into red tones, and grasses swing from green to yellow. The drought plays a big role in the early fall color this year and also in making it look sad rather than golden. The birch trees are already further along and in some cases are already fully clothed in a yellow robe. The morning frost announces itself slightly and puts white crystal layers over the leaves. The air is getting cooler. As I walk through this landscape, I admire it in gratitude. But I don’t take a single photo of it. Why should I? There is hardly anything to beat it for beauty. High, prominent, and snow-covered peaks on the horizon, waterfalls cascading down the slopes, forests full of green larches and yellow birches, and a river course fed by the few remnants of glaciers. Why don’t I take a picture? Oh yes, I very much enjoy the beauty of what I perceive around me. But why doesn’t it excite me to take a photo of it?
On the other hand, there are moments in these walks when I do take photos. Mostly they are photos of details, often using a macro lens. Two-dimensional. Flat. Carved in stone. Why do these impressions resonate with me, but the great, ephemeral, three-dimensional beauty of the landscape around me does not?

What Is Resonance?
In physics, the principle of resonance describes how an external force causes another nearby system to vibrate. Often it even leads to an amplification of the vibration.
The principle of resonance is also used in psychology. It describes that people are touched or moved by something or by other people. Something has reached these people. This trigger leads to a reaction in us humans. Mostly this reaction can only work if we are mindful in a moment and take it in consciously. Psychology often speaks of us then being intentionless and connected to ourselves. In such moments, we recognize something in depth that is not readily apparent visually. We perceive this on a different level.

What Is the Trigger and Where Does It Come From?
Stimuli are often stimuli or triggers due to a changing environment (both external and internal). Our receptors sense these changes and convert them into nerve impulses. Neurons carry these impulses to our central nervous system, where we make decisions. Once we have made a decision, our reaction or response is again carried by neurons to the effectors. These are organs or muscle that can elicit a response. The response is thus a response to the perception of a stimulus.

How we perceive changes in our environment depends strongly on different factors. Among them, for example, our perceptual ability at that specific moment, i.e. how mindful we are. But also by our experiences associated with that moment, memories that may associate fear or joy. However, because these experiences or memories are stored in the subconscious mind of each of us, we react differently as people to the same stimuli. Some attract us, some function as warning signals and tend to repel us.

What Does this Resonance Do to Us?
Stimulus-response theory describes how we respond to a stimulus or trigger. Perhaps the best known example in research is Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. Here, Pavlov showed how dogs can learn through conditioning. However, psychology has debated for decades whether we humans are merely unconscious in our actions in response to stimuli (i.e., we are conditioned) or whether our consciousness, cognitive processing also has an influence on our actions. From these considerations, new sub-disciplines in psychology have emerged, such as Positive Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, or Humanism. Even these are not free of criticism, because the interplay between the unconscious, the conscious, and the conditioned is not explained with sufficient precision.

How Can We Apply Resonance in Photography?
Here, in this blog, I describe visual stimuli that we perceive around us. But we all perceive them differently. I may not respond to the beautiful, vast landscape because I have an over-saturation of such images. Perhaps I react to small details because they are not obvious, can be discovered by me, and thus increase my wonder. Possibly that is why I am responding more to these small details at the moment.
What can we do with these ideas about resonance? Isn’t it exciting to inquire why we actually respond to something? If we know, we are able to develop our images better to that stimulus, to find the better approach or perspective, the more appropriate light or editing on the computer. How can we better identify these stimuli?
From Zen Psychology, we can learn from the book “Zen of Creativity” by John Daido Loori the following approaches to better identify these stimuli.
– Walk through our environment without expectation and not store ideas or concepts in our minds in advance.
– To let the stimuli find us, as Kafka says.
– Through a mindful attitude to perceive and accept when something resonates within us.
– Engaging, taking time and observing how the stimulus changes, sharpens or weakens.
– Not immediately picking up the camera to take a photo. In contrast, it is recommended that we take our time and let our intuition guide us when we want to take a picture.

At the end of my article here, when I was briefly researching the topic of Zen on the internet, I also came across an article by Guy Tal on the topic of photography and Zen, which I am also happy to link here and highly recommend reading.

In this sense I wish you all, an exciting journey towards the discovery of the stimuli.


– John Daido Loori: The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life, Ballantine Books Inc., 2005.
– Guy Tal: Photography and Zen, https://guytal.blog/2019/06/19/photography-and-zen, 2019.