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. I had to fetch a sketchbook & pencils and begin drawing the composition on paper in order to refine ideas for my photography.
Many people at college told me they could see 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 was trying to imagine?
No, nor could I. 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.
Some of the techniques we were taught required us to close our eyes and make the images that we saw grow bigger/smaller, brighter/dimmer and closer/further away.
I couldn’t do this. I mentioned it to several of the assistant tutors that I couldn’t see images when I closed my eyes. They told I was wrong, I could see images! 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. Many of 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 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, as a bonus, a really useful side effect of Image Streaming is that it can help you fall asleep at night (more about that below).
How to Image Stream
It’s easy to learn. Watch this video, practice it for at least 10 continuous minutes every day and you could soon be imagining super-sharp, super-colorful, moving images in your mind. I’ve included a recording of one of my own image streaming sessions so you can hear exactly how it’s done:
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 posted results saying that it worked for them within 9 days. If you read the comments below, written by visitors to 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 three weeks.
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?
I’m confident that you don’t see just nothing. You just aren’t noticing the things that are there.
- During daylight hours, in a place where it is safe to do this exercise, sit down where you can see bright daylight (eg by a window or in a garden)
- Close your eyes. (You can’t see anything, right? It’s all just black.)
- Now, shield your eyes from the light using your hand
- Keeping your eyes close, remove your hand
- Repeat this a few times and notice how the inside of your eyelids are darker when your hand is covering your eyes and lighter when it’s not
- Now cover just one eye. See how that side is black but the other side is brighter? There’s a line, right, between the dark side and the brighter side? That line is something that you can describe when Image Streaming. Is the line hard and clearly defined or fuzzy? How much lighter is the light side? Is there any color to the lighter side? Are there any shapes forming in either the dark or light side?
So, with your eyes closed, it’s not just black. There is stuff there.
Now you can see things with your eyes closed, 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. 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.
This happened to me too. Just keep up as best you can. For me, there came a time when I could concentrate on things and make them stay.
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 at least one type of 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 Dr Wenger’s book on Amazon, 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.
Some of the links in this article are Affiliate Links and clicking on them may result in the owners of this website receiving a commission.