10 Tips on How to use Photography as a Tool for Personal Transformation


Have you ever found yourself in a relationship that’s not really working, or a job that has you feeling trapped? Or maybe your day in, day out lifestyle has you feeling glib.

Whatever the case may be, we’ve all been there. We use different things to cope. Some people drink, while others go to therapy or journal. Well, there is a way that photography can play a part in raising you up out of that negative mindset.

From the Nap Series, Nov.09th, 2012 @Catherine Just

When I was a new mom, my son Max was not really napping. It was driving me absolutely crazy. So I decided to take my iPhone to nap time and when he fell asleep I’d take a photograph. When I saw the photo, I realized that I was so caught up in what I wanted to do that I was missing this very sacred moment between the two of us. It became a three year photo project, and changed my own perception of what was important. I teach a course called In Plain Sight that was inspired by this experience. Below I share some tips from that course, and my own life, so that you can partake in the transformation as well.

You can use whatever camera you wish, and you don’t need to be a pro photographer to make this work for you. I used my iPhone for the Nap series and it worked perfectly.

Here are 10 tips on how to use the camera as a tool for transformation:

#1 Identify the issue

Identify what the issue is that you want to focus on. Let’s say you’re in the middle of a bad breakup, or you’re moving across country.  That’s going to be the topic of your photography project.


#2 Photograph the thing that frustrates you most

Instead of taking photos of that person, or of the things about this situation that drive you mad, instead, focus on how to create a gorgeous photograph of the thing that is frustrating you the most. Sounds pretty hard doesn’t it? But if you detach a bit from the story line, and start to look at things through your viewfinder as a photographer, you’ll find light wrapping itself around the subject in a way that means more than it did before.


#3 Take one photo every day for 30 days

Make this an investigative process. What could you learn every day about your life and how light, composition, shadows, objects, and the space around these objects all intersect with the story line that’s running in your head?


#4 Get closer

Remove the details that don’t serve the photograph. See what can be said with less.

#5 Pay attention to the light

Notice when things are illuminated and how that plays a roll in creating a more dramatic or emotional image.


#6 Go slow

No need to just snap a billion photos. Take one a day. Be thoughtful and on purpose.

#7 Move around the subject

Move around your subject to find the best way to express the emotion. Don’t just hold up the camera and take the photo. Be more in charge of what you create and remember that you can change your vantage point.

Nap series_CJUST_06

#8 Organize your photos

Keep all of your images in a folder on your computer and label them with the date and time you took the photo. Over time you will start to see something emerge that you didn’t expect. Something shifting about how you view this situation. A deeper awareness of who you are, and what this situation wants to tell you.

#9 Share your photos

Post your photos daily on your Instagram feed, and make up a hashtag for the project. People will want to join in and it’s actually an amazing thing to get feedback and support as you move through this process.CatherineJust_Naptime_1

#10 Keep going

You don’t have to stop at 30 days. My Nap Series turned into a three year project. The frustrating situation may stay the same, but you will have a new relationship with it. It’s about progress rather than perfection. If you miss some days, it’s no big deal. You’re not getting graded. This is for you. My Nap series is not a perfect daily project. I missed days for sure, but the transformation happened regardless.

So just keep going and pay attention to what the photographs are telling you. The shift will happen and you’ll be amazed before you are half way through. You’ll be more present for the moments that matter and be a little more curious within the areas of life that are triggering you. You’ll see them in a new light.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Catherine Just is an award-winning photographer with work published on the cover of National Geographic Magazine, Oprah.com, Photo District News, and on the websites of many inspiring life leaders. She shows her fine art photography in galleries worldwide and offers eCourses, a mentoring program and photography retreats for photographers seeking deeper connection with the world and themselves. You can find her posting daily on Instagram. Catherine offers a FREE ebook Both Sides of the Camera.

  • I really love this article. Some days I tell my husband I have to go out and do some phototherapy. Taking photo’s makes me happy. Thank you for this article here is a picture of My Sleeping Beauty. https://www.flickr.com/photos/116863158@N08/14510141439/

  • Continue your Good Work

    Need to see all of your pictures.

  • Education Reform Movement


    Could you sign this petition: change.org/petitions/board-of-education-and-all-educational-facilities-and-municipalities-reform-education-so-that-it-s-fair-for-all-and-not-for-the-elite-few-or-the-dull-many-no-child-left-behind

  • thanks for sharing – have you made it inverted (like a negative) on purpose?

  • I did. I thought it gave a night time feel.

  • Catherine Just

    Thank you!

  • YES! Healing through art. YYYYYYYYEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS! ????

  • Catherine Just

    Thanks so much for sharing this. So amazing to see how unique our individual point of view is. We can all take photos of nap time, but none of them would look the same!

  • Catherine Just

    That’s exactly what I think! YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!! And I adore you. Thank you for stopping by! xo

  • TravelinJones

    What a fantastic idea for using photography for transformation – thanks for sharing!

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    Excellent.. !

  • Sheri

    Love this. And the photos are gorgeous, too.

  • Debbie

    These are lovely & thoughtful tips, I just love them all. Thank you for sharing this process!! Bernadette

  • Catherine Just

    Thank you! Glad you liked it

  • Catherine Just

    Thank you!

  • Catherine Just

    Thanks Sheri!

  • Catherine Just

    Thank you so much.

  • harold


  • This is brilliant article, thoughtful and concise–thank you!

  • Great advice for a situation like yours. I don’t think sticking a camera in the face of someone during a bad break up will work. I’d prefer to take photos of things not at all related to the thing that’s causing the issue.

  • Lis

    Great piece. And looking at your divine photos of your napping son made me realize how much I miss those moments now that my kids are grown – even the feet in the face ones. Thank you.

  • walwit

    There is a lot of good advice in your post but I didn’t understand the problem because your son seems to be napping just fine.

  • Grape Kelly

    The idea behind the article is great! Obviously is only me, but I find the pictures extremely boring, repetitive and with irritatingly bad quality.

  • Dave Morrow

    Interesting article. As I approached retirement a few years ago, I posted a picture with a comment every day for three months as a ‘count-down to retirement’. I found the process fun but challenging and got many interesting comments. My daughter made a shutterfly album of the photos and gave it to me on my birthday which was very special. All in all, My experience validates Catherine’s article.

  • Catherine Just

    I love that you created a meaningful ritual as you counted down the days toward retirement! Your daughter is so thoughtful! I’ve been taking photos every time my son and I travel to Los Angeles and make a book of the photo’s that I give to him to remember the trip. It’s so nice to have that as a reminder of a meaningful time.

  • Catherine Just

    Thank you Lis!

  • Catherine Just

    Thank you Lynsey!

  • Michael Wacht

    I did a therapy photo project while my wife was in Afghanistan two years ago. It was more weekly shots, but helped me express my (sometimes dark) feelings.

  • Interesting idea.

  • Thanks for your comment. Clearly everyone is entitled to their opinion. Others here seem to feel differently. All the best.

  • nancyinabq

    You captured the sweet essence of loving our children beyond words. Thus the beauty and magic of photography. I totally get the frustration you may have felt having to lie down with your son when you had a million other things to do; but then the little hand on your face, foot and toes by your nose, and warm sweaty snuggles. Sigh…. Great project. Thanks for sharing.

  • Virginia S Wood PsyD

    Interesting reaction. I loved the grain, the crops, everything about them — including the way he seemed to be kicking Catherine about half the time! I’ve been back to look at them more than once, and each time each one gives me the same emotional gut kick. I think they’re beautiful. This post has inspired me in my attempts to document the emotions surrounding my husband’s cancer. I finally figured out “what frustrates [me] most” and started snapping this morning. Thank you so much!

    (Sorry — this was supposed to be a reply to Grape, not Darlene)

  • No that’s fine. As I said to each their own right? I too think they are highly emotional and technique and perfection sometimes need to be secondary to storytelling and emotion. I see too many technically perfect images with no heart.

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