How can photography improve our mental health?
How can photography improve our mental health?
Recently, and especially since the pandemic, there’s been a realisation of the importance of looking after our mental health. Photography provides us with a fantastic tool to help improve our wellbeing, with lots of photographers - and even those who may never have picked up a camera before - discovering the healing benefits the medium can have. There are lots of reasons why photography can be considered positive for our mental health including, but not limited to:
This has become a very used and sometimes misused phrase. Generally, it refers to becoming fully immersed in the moment and focusing the mind on one task. Photography is the perfect mindful task since we can literally and metaphorically focus on what is front of us. When we and the camera are “in the zone” hours can feel like minutes.
One of the huge positives about photography is that it is something we can do almost anywhere, including at home. However, a lot of photography is about going outside, moving our body, and experiencing the world around us. It’s a great thing to look at a photograph of a beautiful colourful sunset but quite another to see it for real with the additional aromas and sounds that nature provides. This can be a huge boost to both our physical and mental health.
The benefits of creativity and art for our mental health have long been explored and are well documented. Photography is an art form and as such it can be used to express ourselves and our thoughts and emotions. Art is inherently subjective which means there is no such thing as a bad photograph only ones that you do not like (though others might like them!). This isn’t about technical ability or expensive equipment; it’s about freeing our minds to capture what appeals to us with no judgement.
Expression and control
A photograph or even a photography project is something that we can have complete control over. We set our own agenda, deadlines, locations and topics. In an otherwise hectic world this can be very refreshing.
Photography can be used to connect to others. That could be through social media platforms such as Instagram, or through societies that bring photographers together. With the advent of the internet and smart phones there is now a huge sense of community in the world of photography. Look at sites such as px500, Flickr or set up a Facebook page.
To learn more about using photography as a tool to improve our own mental health, try some of these suggestions.
1 Leave the phone behind
Smartphones are fantastic inventions and most have excellent camera capabilities. However, the permanent connectivity and availability can be detrimental to our mental health. We could try unplugging yourself from the world and heading out with the sole focus of taking pictures. Ideally leave the phone at home to prevent the temptation to check your messages or to see how many likes have been received.
If a standalone camera is available, try taking just that. Switch off from all communication and just look for inspiration around you. If a separate camera isn’t available, try switching your phone to “airplane” mode to remove all distractions.
Perhaps try this practice at a specific time each week and incorporate some gentle physical exercise such as a slow walk for an hour.
2 Research a photography genre
Having complete control over something can be an excellent way to improve our mental health. This is especially the case if we have a stressful occupation or if there are other areas of our life which are a bit more chaotic.
Perhaps learn about street photography, look at the work of the masters. Then take yourself and/or your partner out to the local high street, they can shop while you take photos. Perhaps arrange to meet up at a coffee house to review the images.
3 Set an ongoing project
Spending some time planning a photography project can be a great way to focus the mind on something positive. It allows us to focus on the details of locations, finding props, models etc. Do remember that this is about alleviation of stress, not generating it. Make sure you have FUN!
A long-running project that can be returned to in moments where we might not be feeling your best, is a great way to improve our mental health. Creating a body of work that has occupied a substantial amount of time can provide an ongoing comfort. Ensure the ongoing project is something that is quite simple and straightforward making it easy to return to whenever necessary.
4 Use mindfulness
Photography is already quite a mindful process. To create a photograph, we are required to discover a subject, to focus on it, consider the composition and evaluate how such things as light and shadow influence the scene.
Photography is inherently a visual medium. It is important not to forget about the other senses, such as sounds and smells, that we experience as we are taking our pictures. I have taken some beautiful images of stinkhorn fungi that were found by smell, albeit not a very pleasant one! Try to really think about everything that is being included in the frame before taking the picture. Remember that photography is more about what is chosen to excluded from our viewfinder.
5 Combine photography with writing
We know that photography can be a wonderful way to express our emotions; both positive or negative. Perhaps we could get even more from it by combining it with writing. It is well documented that some of the greatest minds in history kept journals. Reflecting on our thoughts and actions can be a great way to make more sense of them. This could be captions to accompany our images in an album, a journal entry with a photo that goes alongside it, a blog of even writing text directly onto our images. Don’t worry about the quality of your words, just let the feelings flow out.
6 Find an outlet
Having a place to share our work can give a the sense of pride and achievement. It can provide accountability and purpose for things like long-term projects and ongoing work. A word of caution; do not become focussed on the number of likes or lack of. Art is subjective, this is not about popularity it’s about using photography as a medium to develop wellbeing and to forge a positive mental attitude.
7 Make time to destress
The process of walking and taking photographs, even for only 10 minutes, can be a great way to
8 Connect with others
Photography can be a solitary hobby, which does suit some people. Immersing yourself in a wilderness or a peaceful landscape are ideal ways to connect with nature and practice mindfulness.
I run informal workshops designed to help beginners improve their photography skills. I also manage a Facebook group of friendly people called Promoting Positive Photography. Why not apply to join and see what we get up to, or better still join us on one of our workshops. I look forward to seeing you there! Some of the images in this blog post are of participants in the workshops.
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