Until I was about 30, I could not see images in my head. When I closed my eyes, all I’d see was black nothingness. Due to random luck, that changed.
Before I learned the technique that I’m about to share with you, experimenting with photographic composition was a manual task. I had to physically stand in front of my subject and actually move things. That, or I would fetch a sketchbook & pencils and begin drawing my ideas on paper.
Frustratingly, many people at college told me they could see and manipulate bright, clear images in their “Mind’s Eye”. They could preplan their photo-shoots and improve their compositions just by closing their eyes and imagining what the photo might look like.
This made absolutely no sense to me. I could not imagine what that would be like. When I closed my eyes, all I could see was a reddy/brown, fuzzy nothingness.
Before I Was Taught This Technique
If I closed my eyes and tried to visualize, say, an elephant, this is my best shot at showing you what it looked like:
Can you see the elephant? No, nor could I.
All I could see was the back of my eyelids, with the reddy/brown color coming from what little light passed through them.
If I stood in front of a bright light with my eyes closed, I could see that the inside of my eyelids were a lighter brown/red. If I turned away, the inside of my eyelids would become darker. That’s as much as I can tell you about what I could see unless I had my eyes open and was actually looking at something real.
What I definitely could not see was any sort of shape, color or image.
What Is Aphantasia?
I’ve only recently heard the term ‘aphantasia.’ It is a neurological condition in which a person is unable to recall memories as pictures or create images in their imagination. I have no idea whether I would have been diagnosed with aphantasia, or whether what I went on to be taught is a cure.
All I know is that I was never able to see images in my mind’s eye. Now, after practicing the technique that I’m about to share with you, I can.
It’s also interesting that I was never able to recall dreams. I would tell people that I do not dream. Now, since practicing this technique, I regularly experience and recall strong, vivid dreams.
My Trip to London
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). The course was part of my regular personal development regimen.
Some of the techniques we were taught required us to close our eyes and make the images that we saw grow bigger or smaller, brighter or dimmer, and bring them closer to us or take them further away.
I couldn’t do this. It frustrated me. I mentioned to several of the assistant tutors that I couldn’t see images when I closed my eyes. They told me that I was wrong. ~They said that I could see images!
When I insisted, I was told that everyone sees pictures in their heads. One of them, trying to be helpful said, with a hypnotic tone in his voice, “Imagine what it would be like … if you could see images in your mind.” After a few minutes, he gave up. I had no comprehension of what it would be like.
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. Many hands when up—I wasn’t unusual after all!
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‘.
I couldn’t wait to try it. After a few months of daily practice, this technique affected me in two ways:
- First, if I was aphantasic, Image Streaming cured it. I could see bright, vivid images in my head. I haven’t practiced the technique in years—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, as a bonus, a really useful side effect of Image Streaming is that it can help you fall asleep at night (more about that in the FAQ section below).
How to Image Stream
It’s easy to learn. Play this video to find out how.
One thing, before you do: I have found that many people give up. They try it once or twice and, when nothing happens, they decide it doesn’t work.
It took me about a month to get really good results (although I noticed changes earlier.) I would urge you to practice for 10 continuous minutes, at least once a day, for at least a month. It doesn’t work with everyone. If you’re one of the luck ones, you could soon be seeing images in your mind’s eye.
Many people have contacted me about this over the past few years. Here are answers to the most common questions:
Q. How long should I rub my eyes for and how hard?
Just a few seconds and not at all hard. Most people I’ve spoken to about this have experienced seeing ‘golden dots’ inside their eyelids after rubbing them for a few seconds. It’s something people sometimes do naturally after waking-up in the morning. The objective is to get you started—give you something to begin describing. If you don’t see the golden dots from gently rubbing your eyes, try one of the other 24 backup techniques mentioned in the link at the bottom of this page. You should NOT be rubbing your eyes for more than a few seconds.
Q. How long do I have to do Image Streaming for before I’ll see results?
Somebody on Reddit (link below) posted results saying that it worked for them within seven to nine days. If you read the comments (below) from readers of this page, you’ll see that some people see an improvement within 20 minutes. Others need a few weeks and, for some, it doesn’t work at all. I can’t promise a cure but I do feel that some people give-up too quickly. My suggestion is that you do it for at least 10 continuous minutes, at least once a day, for at least a month before deciding that it doesn’t work for you.
Q. Can I do Image Streaming without speaking the words out-loud?
Not if you want to be able to improve your ability to see images in your mind’s eye! As described further down this page, speaking inside your head while doing Image Streaming is likely to send you to sleep.
Q. All I see is black. How can I describe what I see when there’s nothing to see?
If you can’t see the ‘golden dots’ after rubbing your eyes gently for a couple of seconds, try some of the 24 backup techniques mentioned in the Further Reading section at the bottom of this article.
Q. If I use a voice recorder, do I have to listen back to what I’ve said?
No. I’m not going to pretend that I understand why but it seems that your mind just needs to know what the words are being recorded. You can, of course, listen to the recordings if you want to. Personally, I didn’t bother.
Q. By the time I’ve begun describing something, it’s gone and something else is there instead.
Yep, that’s exactly what happened to me at first. For me, there came a time when I could concentrate on the things I was seeing and I could make them stay. Until then, just keep up as best you can.
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.
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 do now have a functioning mind’s eye means that either Image Streaming cured my aphantasia or I was never truly aphantasic. All I know is that I was never conscious of being able to see images in my mind’s eye until I practiced Image Streaming. Related or not, I was never conscious of dreaming when I was asleep either. 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!
Michael Neill cited Win Wenger, PhD as the inventor of Image Streaming.
Here are links to the Image Streaming section of his website and to the 24 back-up techniques that he lists which can help those people who can’t see the ‘golden dots’ when rubbing their eyes. I’ve also included some other links that you may find interesting.
- Dr Wenger’s website page explaining Image-Streaming
- Dr Wenger’s 24 Tested Back-Up Techniques to Help Start a Flow of Images
- Aphantasia article on Wikipedia
- A discussion on aphantasia (including James Somerset’s contribution) on Quora
- Someone on Reddit sharing their experience of learning Image Streaming from this page