How learners come to grips and can transform their thinking about something extremely complex such as environmental issues are addressed with this research. It is argued that the qualities of the visual mode of information processing are of particular relevance for cognition in the environmental context. This paper reports on a study of the photographic experience of nineteen participants who worked individually on an environmental photography project of their choice over a period of up to ten weeks. It was found that on completion of their project, the participants' conceptualisations of their topics became more differentiated, complex and defined; multiple perspectives were constructed and their own positions and feelings clarified. Above all, a notion of optimism emerged after Initial conceptualisations of environmental issues as issues of pollution, degradation, violation and death. This paper discusses the cognitive potential of the visual mode for the development of environmental thinking and presents some examples of conceptual shifts through the photographic work.