Better Photography and a Good Night’s Sleep!

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Have you heard of a condition called ‘aphantasia’?

No, nor had I until a few months ago.

Aphantasia is a neurological condition in which a person is unable to recall memories as pictures or create images in their imagination.

For most of my photographic career I found it impossible to picture images in my head. To refine ideas for my photography I had to fetch a sketchbook & pencils and begin drawing the composition on paper.

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Many people at college told me they could conjure-up and manipulate bright, beautifully clear images in their “Mind’s Eye”. They could pre-plan their photo-shoots and improve their compositions just by closing their eyes and imagining what the photo might look like.

All I could see when I closed my eyes was a reddy/brown hazy, fuzzy nothingness.

Before I Found a Cure

This is my best shot at showing you what it looked like. Can you see the elephant I’m imagining here?

A dark, randomly varying image that simulates what James Somerset saw when he closed his eyes. No images formed. This is aphantasia? This was before he learned how to Image Stream.

All I was seeing (I guess) was the inside of my eyelids! Definitely no elephants.

Ten to fifteen years after leaving college I happened to attend an eight day training course in London, England. I didn’t go because I thought I had aphantasia (the term hadn’t even been invented then). I went as part of my regular personal development regimen.

The subject of the course was Neuro-Linguistic Programming. The techniques we were learning required us to close our eyes and make the images we saw grow bigger/smaller, brighter/dimmer and closer/further away.

I had been really struggling with this and had mentioned it to several of the assistant tutors. When I stated that I couldn’t see images when I closed my eyes, I was told I could. When I insisted, I was told everyone sees pictures in their heads.

Several days in to the course one of the Lead Tutors, a man named Michael Neill, asked whether there was anyone in the audience who couldn’t see images in their mind’s eye. Lots of hands when up—I wasn’t unusual after all!

Image Streaming

Mr Neill invited a member of the audience to go up to the stage and started to explain and demonstrate a technique he called ‘Image Streaming‘.

This technique affected me in two ways:

  • First, if I was aphantasic, this cured it. After a few months of daily practice I was seeing bright, vivid images in my head. I haven’t practiced it since—but I still see beautifully clear images in my mind’s eye.
  • Second, it improved my photography like nothing else I’d ever done. From that point on I didn’t need to construct a set, find models or leave the house to play with composition or photo ideas. I could just sit back, relax and close my eyes. Image Streaming helped me become a better photographer from the comfort of my armchair.

Today I can close my eyes and see detailed images that are pretty close to what I’d see if I had my eyes open and was looking at a TV or cinema screen. I can freeze motion, move props and models, add new items and change the lighting.

As someone who couldn’t ever do this before it still amazes me when I close my eyes and create something beautiful. This is something I’ve learned to do—I definitely wasn’t born with it.

And a really useful side effect of Image Streaming is that it can help you fall asleep at night (more about that at the end).

How to Image Stream

It’s easy to learn. Watch this video, practice it for a few minutes every day and you could soon be imagining super-sharp, super-colorful, moving images in your mind. I’ve included a live image streaming recording so you can hear exactly how it’s done:

Watch this video

Do You Need an Image Streaming Partner?
Use the Contact Us page on this site. I may be able to help you.

The Early Days

The sound clip that I’ve included within that video is from a very early Image Streaming session. I have become much better with practice. Images now come easily, clearly and quickly. For me, at least, it really has been worth the effort of dedicating time every day to practicing streaming images in my mind. (I don’t know whether it’s improved my IQ though.)

Do You Have Trouble Getting to Sleep?

There’s a super useful bonus reason to learn how to image stream. Not only can it improve your photography and potentially improve your intelligence it can help you fall sleep more easily!

To quickly and easily fall asleep, perform the technique in the way described in the video with one exception—rather than speaking the detailed descriptions of what you see out loud—say the words inside your head while you lie in your bed.

There’s no need for a voice recorder or friend! Doing image streaming in this way will send you to sleep quickly.

You can read more about using image streaming for falling asleep, together with other useful tips for getting a good night’s sleep, in the book “Fall asleep! It’s Easy…The (miraculous) Kaleidoscope Method: How to get to sleep, sleep help, cure insomnia and have better sleep” by Eli Yeats.

Can Image Streaming Cure Aphantasia?

If I had known that there is a ‘condition’ called aphantasia while I was college I would have asked to be tested for it. Its description seems to fit my experience.

However, the fact that I now do have a functioning mind’s eye means that either Image Streaming is a cure for aphantasia or I was never truly aphantasic. All I know is that I was never consciously able to see images in my mind’s eye until I learned to Image Stream. Related or not, I was never conscious of dreaming prior to learning to Image Stream. I am now.

I’d love for this article to reach some true aphantasics and for them to practice the technique to see if it offers them any solutions. The great thing is that you don’t need to be able to see images to practice Image Streaming!

Further Reading

Michael Neill cited Win Wenger, PhD as the inventor of Image Streaming. Here’s a link to the Image Streaming section of Dr Wenger’s website and to the 24 back-up techniques that he lists which can help those people who really can’t see images start using with this technique. I’ve also included some other links that you may find interesting.

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  • 5o5o

    Hey, I just stumbled upon this article today but I’ve already forgotten how. Anyway, I’m going to start practicing this tonight, June 30th 2017. I’ll check back in a few months from now and let everyone know of my progress. I’m completely aphantastic (No sound, images, feelings, nothing) so if this does work for me, it has to work for everyone else. It just has to.. And even if it doesn’t- have hope guys, this condition does not define us. It does not mean the end for us or our humanity in the slightest. Good luck to you all!

  • RI Editor

    Thanks for the video, James! I’m eager to try this later today. I wonder if you can help me out, here: I’ve been able to imagine scenes in novels and can conjure up an image (though I hesitate to call it that, because it seems almost transparent or hollow) at will, but I have a hard time doing this with my eyes closed. When they are closed, I’m distracted by the image of my eyelids, and the mental image seems less real. So, when you “see” an image during visualization, does it cover the image of your eyelids? Or can you still literally see your eyelids? I know this is not super clearly written, but this sort of thing is tough to capture. Maybe the best way to describe it is that when I try to visualize, the imagery happens “higher up” than my eyes?

  • Celia Justo

    Hi James, it’s day two of trying the image streaming you describe. I’m having trouble keeping up with the rapid pace. I feel as though I have long periods of nothing in between light images. At first, I was thinking of things and then trying to imagine them. But after reading up on image streaming again it seems like you are supposed to describe what’s happening instead on thinking about something and Then describing it. Is this correct? Any advice on how to increase the flow so I’m moving at a faster pace? Also, are you supposed to listen back on your recordings after your done with the excersise? Thanks for sharing this!

    • Hi @cmj123:disqus. I think it’s pretty normal (in the early days of image streaming) to have these long gaps of nothingness (at least, that was my experience). Stick with it. Until I made this video, I have never made any serious attempt at listening back to my recordings. I’m pretty sure you don’t need to – your brain just needs to know what ‘someone’ is taking notice while you are actually doing the talking. Hope that helps 🙂

  • Angie

    Wow, I spent all last night googling information on this and really appreciate your article. So now, through this technique, can you visualize all the time..or just when focusing on an object or doing the image streaming?
    I’ve been doing a lot of guided meditation lately through yoga and other workshops, and this is when I realized I may have this issue of aphantasia. I close my eyes and find myself so frustrated that I can’t do a simple visualization that my teachers are asking for. The most frustrating thing is I’m a very visual learner, so I really would love to include visualization in my meditation to take things a bit deeper. But I just can’t. Just black! I tried this last night by rubbing my eyes and looking for specks, but they went away so fast all I could say was, ” black circle with a green rim around it”. That was literally it. Any suggestions for working on this?

    • Hi Angie – the specks do go away quickly (within seconds). What they do is give you something to focus on. You begin describing what you can see. You’ll notice patterns/shapes within the specks. Talk out loud about them. By concentrating on the patterns, they will hang around for longer. At this stage what you’re seeing is not the specks but very faint images created by your brain. It’s those images that you want to train your brain to see. As you train, you’ll be able to pull brighter, bigger, more detailed images from that part of your brain.

  • Rachel Howe

    Learned I was an aphant (before there was a name for it) about 10 years ago, when I was in my mid 30’s. I had been working an extremely long shift that had been mentally and physically grueling… I was exhausted. Suddenly, like someone flipped a switch, my mind shifted from aphant style thinking, to purely visual thinking. Because it was so surreal and shocking, the best way I can describe it in words, is “lucid dreaming.” It was so easy to process “thinking” this way and I didn’t want it to stop. I could, not only see pictures in my mind, but could control them. I was dumbfounded. And even more so as I learned that everyone else I asked, could do this on command, ALL THE TIME! In fact, if I asked them to think about something WITHOUT using mental imagery, they could not.
    Sadly, when I woke the next morning, it was gone, I could not bring it back. Over time, I had noticed that just before falling asleep, occasionally I can have mental images, but I cannot control them, I can only “watch” them. If I have trouble falling asleep, I will often try to visualize a simple object like an orange. Typically, I cannot even conjure the color orange, let alone the texture or shadows of an orange. But it does tend to “knock” me right out. My guess is that the effort required to focus, quiets everything else in the mind.
    I’m looking forward to trying this out. If I could add just a small bit of mental visualization into my waking self, I can see many uses. Thank you for sharing this approach.

    • Wow! That’s a totally new take on it for me. Thanks for taking the trouble to write all of that 🙂 James

  • sanitychecker

    I am 59 years old, and up until one hour ago I had never heard of the word aphantasia.

    Earlier this evening, I was talking with my wife about how poorly I visualize (I can actually visualize tiny bits and piece of images, usually without color, but that’s it). Within the past hour I learned that there are people who can visualize nothing at all … which oddly enough makes me feel a little better about my condition.

    I’m very good at imagining sounds. Under certain circumstances, I can hear entire orchestras or bands, sometimes being able to differentiate individual instruments in my mind’s eye.

    I’m pretty good at imagining touch, too.

    So I appreciate you taking the time to explain how you do image streaming, because I have long wished that I could have that skill as well.

    I had already found the Win Wenger article, and I’ve printed it out with the intention of asking my wife to work with me on it.

    I also found a website at http://aphant.asia/ that has a forum full of people who experience aphantasia. I was alarmed to discover that there are a lot of people with the condition who are frightened or otherwise unwilling to even want to visualize effectively, while there are others who (like me) feel sad that they lack the ability.

    But I refused to be put off by their negativity. Within minutes, I found Wenger and your article.

    That’s my long-winded way of saying “thank you” for writing it.

  • Lee Kian

    I am confused, after I close my eye, I see 2 type of image, one is just dark, which is what i see behind my eye lid; another one is the image in my mind (not in front of my closed eye), which is some movies/images that i have just watched. Which image should i observe? Thank you

    • Hi Lee – thanks for your question. You concentrate on the images in your mind; ignore the back of your eye lids.

  • Berthold Lorenz

    hey thanks for writing this up. in a sea of “we dunno/can’t be helped/you are special be happy” i read after finding out that most people mean picturing things literally, your experience gives me hope i may be able to learn…… someday.
    i have been trying for about 2 months now, every evening before i go to sleep, sometimes in the morning/day. the only way i have been able to start seeing anything is with after images/phosphenes. i tried a lot of variations with how i describe them, how much i allow myself to imagine without pictures, etc, etc. so far i can’t get further than the after images/phosphenes themself. they either fade away to nothingness, or in case of phosphenes if i can still keep focus on seeing them while describing, they just keep on rapidly changing into mostly indescribable shapes.
    now for the good parts. in the 2nd week, when observing phosphenes i think i may actually have imagined a weird V shape. it looked like a phosphene, but it stayed observable for what felt like about 10 seconds. every other phosphene i see either flashes really quickly, a split second, or is continuously morphing into other shapes. this V was static, it was big enough that i was able to look at each corner separately and when i realized that, my heart rate jumped like crazy and i lost focus. after that for about another week i was barely able to even observe phosphenes. i think i tried to hard, with renewed enthusiasm that i may be able to learn after all. couple more weeks rolled by and i told myself more and more it may just have been another phosphene, just a for me rare static one. now a couple days ago, i believe the same thing happened again. but this time it was small enough that i could see everything at once. i had enough time to describe the outline with “maybe 2 fingers, index and middle finger like from a hand resting flat on a table” after which either the shape changed or i realized i’m seeing more detail, the outline for fingernails and a thumb. while describing those my heart rate rocketed again, and again i’m having a hard time to just observe the phosphenes since.
    so i’m really not sure if i actually imagined something those 2 times because they still looked like phosphenes, shapes made from contrast or outlines. but it definitely was something different than all other times.
    i tried it with after images as well, but those only ever fade away and never sparked something new.
    i will continue to try, even if i may never be able to actually picture things, i believe my ability to recall dreams and my normal “blind” way of imagining things is getting better.

    • Hey Berthold, this is really positive. Thanks for taking the time to give such a detailed description of your experience. The “weird V shape [that] stayed observable” and looked more-or-less like phosphenes is very much like my early Image Streaming sessions. It sounds to me as if you’re making good progress. Keep at it! In my experience, it works. (Can I just check that when you Image Stream before bed, you are doing
      so out loud using your real voice rather than the voice inside your
      head?)

  • Gilles (جيل شحادة)

    Do you keep rubbing your eyes for the entire 10 minutes ? 🙂

    • Hi @disqus_M8g5WhIGT7:disqus — my apologies for taking so long to reply (I’ve been away on a shoot in the South of England). No, you don’t keep rubbing your eyes the entire time. You rub them only for a few seconds at the start. As soon as you see the bright dots of light, you stop rubbing and start describing what you see. What you may find is that once you are aware of the dots you begin to see other shapes and patterns forming. These will probably be vapid and indistinct at first. Just keep practicing. If you find that you don’t see any patterns or shapes after rubbing your eyes, try one of the other ‘back-up’ techniques (see the link at the end of the article). By-the-way: I had saw an absolutely stunning image last night as I was in bed trying to fall asleep. One of the best I’ve ever seen. Detailed, complex and stunning — and I haven’t image streamed in years (so it shows that the technique can have long-lasting effects). Please let me know how you get on. With kind regards, James.

  • Agent M

    I hope this works, though I cannot help but feel pessimistic. Image streaming has been used as a dubious method to increase intelligence, but maybe this is a more useful application. I also cannot literally think in words, because I cannot imagine sounds: I literally have to express in sound or writing to even think, which causes trouble in situations where I have to be quiet.

    • Hi M! Thank you for taking the time to comment. Please let me know how you get on. The results I’ve had with Image Streaming have been so good that I’m keen to share it with others. So far my experience is limited to myself. I’d love to know whether (or not) it works for other people.

    • Hey @singinglark:disqus , have you any news? Did you try the technique for any significant time? Have you noticed any improvements/results?

  • rio oktavian

    Thanks for sharing your experience, i will trying it out, i wish it worked for me.
    once again, thank you very much

  • MATT

    Thanks for writing this, James! I am really happy to hear that you were able to develop this ability, and I’m really looking forward to trying it out! I’ll let you know if it worked for me.

    • Hi Matt—thanks, I’d be really interested in hearing back from you. Also, if you learn anything that isn’t covered in the video or my text, I’d be grateful if you’d post that here too. J