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Photos in the Forest ...

... Cracking the codes of aesthetic value in Black Forest

Have you ever stopped to take a photo while hiking in the Black Forest thinking that it would be the perfect view to share on your social media? Maybe you have even clambered off trail, waded into a stream, or knelt down in the dirt to get the just the right shot for the ‘gram. Or for those of you who are social media-wary, perhaps you have recommended a particular hike to a visitor just for its stunning scenery. But have you stopped to think what it is about that particular part of the forest that makes it so aesthetically pleasing to warrant a grueling hike or a social media share? That is exactly the question the C, D, and E ConFoBi researchers, along with many others across the globe, are interested in answering.

The aesthetic beauty of natural spaces has been accepted as an important cultural ecosystem service for the past few decades, but remains difficult to quantify and incorporate into management planning. However, the abundance of social media data made available in recent years, particularly from photo-sharing sites, provides a variety of unique and publicly-available datasets of revealed aesthetic values. This availability has opened the door for researchers to examine all sorts of questions around the uses, perceptions, and appreciation of frequently photographed spaces.

Inspired by a 2019 talk from ConFoBi collaborator and visitor, Dr. Guillermo Martínez Pastur from the Laboratorio de Recursos Agroforestales in Patagonia, the social science PhDs along with Dr. Johannes Penner, teamed up to explore how aesthetic value, represented by Flickr photos, is distributed across the Black Forest landscape and better understand the role structural and biological forest elements play in determining that aesthetic value.

A little more than a year and 30,000 Flickr photographs later, our work to answer these questions is still in full swing, but already showing some promising results. Led by the hard work of a recent Masters student, we have been exploring the environmental characteristics driving the spatial distribution of photos across the landscape and have found interesting correlations between the photo “hotspots” and the landscape’s openness and accessibility. These findings will hopefully offer insights for including social values like aesthetics into landscape-level management planning.

We have also devised a novel interdisciplinary method for analyzing the content of the photographs, which is currently being pilot tested. If successful, this method will not only offer more detailed insights on the contributions of different forest elements to the photographs, but also contribute to the growing literature and methodological base on the topic.

So next time you’re out snapping a photo in the forest, take an extra moment to appreciate the aesthetic beauty that drew you to that particular view and stay tuned for ConFoBi findings!

by Nicole Still (C1), Philipp Mack (C2), Manuel John (D1) & Carlos Miguel Landivar Albis (D2)