As we celebrate Earth Day this month, we’re thinking about how we’re bound together by our relationship to the earth and our responsibility to care for it. This is not a novel concept – in 1624, John Donne published the famous words, “No man is an island.” He was recovering from loss and illness, and grappling with the meaning of interconnectedness:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
With environmental crises in the headlines, and corporate environmental responsibility becoming more critical than ever, designers and marketers are seeking a balance between the two worlds, as well as nature images that inspire awe. We wondered how visual representations of nature might be changing, so we dove into our data from Adobe Stock to compare searches for nature versus urban settings.
Are we searching for nature or cities?
Our initial hunch was that far more designers and marketers would be searching for nature shots over urban images. After all, nature imagery can speak to our longing for balance and connection — it seems like a perfect match for marketing to our desires. But according to the Adobe Digital Insights (ADI), it turns out that over the last year, searches for both urban and natural settings grew, but urban scenes outgrew nature by 32 percent.
So was our original theory way off? To get more clarity from the data, we used natural language processing and some old-fashioned human expertise to look deeper into the natural and urban images people were searching for. That’s where we found something really interesting — the majority of urban images that people searched for (62 percent) embraced a balance between urban settings and nature. These were images like parks, gardens, bridges over rivers and streams, and lush landscaping surrounding man-made structures. Only 25 percent of the most-searched urban images were entirely man-made — subjects like a building, a concert venue, or graffiti on a wall.
We think this visual trend — images that show man-made structures in balance with natural elements — speaks to our growing urbanization. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 97 percent of the nation’s land area is rural, but only 19.3 percent of us live there. We are overwhelmingly urban, and as we separate ourselves from wild nature and open spaces, we’re searching for images that show there’s still a connection between the natural world and all that we’ve built.
Is nature a respite or a threat?
Even with the surge in searches for nature-infused urban scenes, there are still a lot of searches for nature, so we took a deeper look at those — what are designers and marketers after? We wondered if they’re searching for the terrifying side of nature, or for nature as a peaceful respite from our stressed out daily lives. Our ADI team reports that searches for the gentle side — images that inspire awe and a sense of rejuvenation — grew two times faster than destructive images like fires, floods, and ruins. Only 13 percent of the nature images people searched for showed nature reclaiming what humans have built.
It’s a balancing act.
Our overall takeaway, after our deep dive into the data, is that designers and marketers are looking across the spectrum for images of urban and nature scenes, but there’s a strong desire to find the shots that show balance and positive co-existence between nature and our urban lives. And while there’s some demand for images of the dark side of nature, it’s a peaceful interconnectedness — the reminder that none of us is an island all alone — that drives the bulk of searches for nature imagery.
We’ll be thinking about nature and photography all this month, taking a closer look at conservation photography and trends in travel imagery. In the meantime, take in some inspiration through our dedicated gallery.