Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

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I initially took up photography for one simple reason – I couldn’t draw. My 16-year-old self reasoned that photography must be pretty easy. Just point the camera and shoot, right? But as I worked away in the high school darkroom, I realized how powerful the camera is for artistic output. And as I built up my own photographic practice, I got to see another side of photography too, its therapeutic qualities.

It tasks photographers with the opportunity to truly see an environment, making the most out of any situation. Photography requires adaptability and focus, driving photographers to chase that elusive perfect shot. This is why many people find photography so effective for cultivating good mental health.

Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

There is a unique satisfaction in executing a photograph you are happy with.

Mental health is a vast topic. It plucks external experiences and mashes them with physiology indiscriminately. Personally, I feel like photography isn’t just about cameras and photos, but consistency. Something I can fall back on when times get tough. Often I find that photography can be the difference between a good or a bad day – that’s pretty powerful stuff.

Here are a few ways that I’ve found photography to be beneficial for my own mental wellness.

Motivation

From the earliest stages of photographic study, the camera trains the eye to seek out detail and opportunity. Whether you notice it or not, chances are you’ll quickly begin to see the world through the perimeter of the viewfinder – camera in hand or not. A photographer’s process is often cyclical – seeking out subjects will drive you to document them photographically. And to photograph those subjects adequately, you’ll need a discerning eye. One feeds the other and motivation fuels both.

I’m a bit of an aviation nerd, so taking photographs of something I love always picks me up emotionally.

But the relationship between photography and motivation can be tenuous. Sticking with photography in better times creates a sense of stability in harder periods. Chasing the elusive “perfect shot” and the afterglow of a photo session slowly starts to become a necessity – instilling resilience.

We photographers are lucky in that we have a self-contained tool to reach out to. Photography opens an inexhaustible amount of doors, providing opportunities to explore, travel, experiment and grow experience. It also helps form relationships with different places and subjects, leading to tangible locations that are a haven for low days. A valuable self-care technique.

People on the outside may not understand a photographer’s inner workings or mental well being, but even the smallest of accomplishment spills over to a new day, easing the complex difficulties experienced in a low. Photography has many benefits and it all comes down to taking a camera in your hands.

Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

Photography can take you to amazing places.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be an important fixture in mental health. Usually, you’d think of yoga or meditation when discussing it. But it’s no different for photographers.

This is a time to take stock of your mental landscape. It encourages a state of attentiveness to your surroundings and your own thinking. Whenever you bring awareness to your own senses, you are being deliberately mindful. It’s almost like hitting a reset button for a moment, taking a breath, and paying attention to your sensory experience.

Mindfulness has been found to reduce stress and rumination, working memory, focus, and self-insight.

Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

Photography isn’t just like mindfulness, it is mindfulness. Photography requires a deep focus on all of the body’s sensory input to seek out photographic subjects. It prioritizes the actions involved in photography first – avoiding some sort of sensory overload.

This deep sense of a photographer’s surroundings transforms a moment into a carefully considered image, even in a split second And it all comes together to form one fluid moment, with each click of the shutter activated with purpose and reason. As Don McCullin, documentary and war photographer said,

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you are looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures”.

Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

Green is the color our eyes are most sensitive to. Seeking out nature, even in an urban environment can cultivate mental well being.

Perspective

From it’s earliest incarnations, photography has shaped our understanding of the world. Eadweard Muybridge is known for his photography of the Mid West. But he shifted his focus to a more scientific endeavor when Leland Stanford, a race-horse owner asked that he could study the dynamics of a horse’s gallop.

Muybridge had been tasked with breaking down what the eye could not. Up until Muybridge’s efforts, most artists painted horses at a trot with one foot always on the ground. But Myubridge’s use of photography revealed the horse’s gait was performed with all the feet in the air over the course of each stride. His method was one of the early uses of perspective in photography, revealing the scientific potential of the camera.

Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

Taking advantage of an interesting perspective is a valuable form of-self expression.

Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

Photography can reveal beauty with a simple change in perspective. The mental gymnastics required to form an unusual image slowly becomes second nature, aiding with racing thoughts and anxiety.

Photographers make use of both mental and physical perspective to re-imagine the world. Sometimes a new perspective is physical, or it reflects the inner machinations of a photographer’s process. Inspiration can hit at any time – that’s why I try to keep a camera with me as much as possible.

Thinking, planning, investigating, scouring. Photographers make use of personal experience to convey a new way of digesting a scene, both deliberately and on purpose. The result is an unusual insight into a subject. This genuine approach can reveal a greater faith in your own photography. But it also encourages relationships between a viewer and the photographer.

This contentedness cultivates awareness, thoughtfulness, and insight. This sharing of ideas is also cathartic and mentally beneficial – a  problem shared is a problem halved.

Conclusion

Why Photography is Beneficial for Your Mental Wellness

Photography leaves your mark on the world.

Artists have always translated art from the mental manifestations of the artist. Photography cultivates thought, inspiration, awareness, and focus. Your photography reflects your own experience – creating new perspectives and connections with people. Art can flip perspective upside -down.

Buy honing in on your own experiences, you can cultivate a mindfulness in your practice that flows into the heights of creativity and eases some of the burdens of mental lows.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. A lifelong fascination with flight has inspired her photographic practice in documenting the intricate form of aircraft. Megan is also interested in travel photography and documenting human interaction with the modern landscape, through both intentional and incidental intervention. She is well versed in both digital and film practice. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications.

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  • Marloes Decraemer

    Thank you. I was looking for ways to get into the moment. Didn’t realise until this article that that is what photography does. I left my camera on the counter (well, it’s not in a box!) the last year or so, feeling too deflated to pick it up. I just took my first “take that iphone and shoot whatever you see” picture and I understand what you write in the article, so good. Thank you

  • Adrianne Marie Gentleman

    Thank you so much, I took up photography just 2 years ago. I didn’t realise it would be so good for me, it helps me deal with my sever depression, in fact my family worry if I’m not taking photos. it is the best thing I ever did, I would love to be a better artistic photographer though lol

  • Cheryl P

    Great article! I hadn’t thought of those points in just that way. I do enjoy my amateur photography, and my husband frequently comments on my great “eye.” TX for putting it down so succinctly.

  • waledro

    Thanks for this article and personal story. My career was working with people who were experiencing difficult lives or struggling to survive mentally. I saw the worst of human behaviours on a regular basis. Picking up the camera to take in the beauty of nature and become immersed in it provided some respite and helped me to find mental balance in my life. In retirement I still find it to be a “therapeutic” activity in a most positive way.

  • Megan Kennedy

    Thank you Marloes, I’m glad I could help! Photography sure is a powerful thing πŸ™‚

  • Megan Kennedy

    Oooo the good ‘eye’ is a sure sign. Go for it Cheryl !

  • Megan Kennedy

    I can’t imagine what you went through at your work, but photography sure is an amazing tool. I’m glad you find it so therapeutic πŸ™‚

  • Cheryl P

    TX, Megan – it’s just my great enjoyment of beauty!

  • Sonny Rutherford

    Thank you for the insight, which I have come to realise myself, having had chronic mild depression for years, photography used to be a hobby, this last year I have been going to horse events and selling my photos, it has been a tough year for me and these weekends and the joy I get from photographing a subject I love and getting those odd shots I like to find lift my spirits and get me through my normal job. The joy of photography helps me keep my depression under control. I also use it to redirect my thoughts when they are going in the wrong direction I redirect it to think of the photos I want to take or the editing I want to do. So it works in a number of ways as you have pointed out

  • Megan Kennedy

    I totally understand. I need at least one little (not phone) camera on hand or I’m probably asleep hehe. Artistic photography is great, but I’m not much good at it!

  • Megan Kennedy

    Thanks Sonny, I love that excited feeling, I think there a very specific type of excitement reserved for photographers getting that shot! Growing artistically alongside mental health is so important so I’m glad it helps πŸ™‚ And your business sounds absolutely lovely!

  • KC

    I can relate to a lot of this. Photography combined art and science for me.

    Addressing the topic more directly, in a crowded, noisy, distracting, world, photography can give you a quick trip “back inside your head”. It’s like meditation. It pinpoints your attention, and cuts out the mental clutter. You’re framing and isolating physical space and capturing time. The challenges of capturing the idea stuck in your head, of seeing and capturing “something” in the middle of all the other “somethings”, is exciting. It’s the ultimate “be in the moment”.

    In terms of “mental wellness”, yes photography is a great thing. The threshold for capturing a technically great image is pretty low these days. That’s wonderful! Photography has never been more accessible. Be careful of the “slippery slope”, though. It can be easy to get caught up in “if only”, or be your worst critic. Take “pass/fail” out of the equation. Allow yourself to be curious and delighted, like a child.

    Here’s a secret: we pro’s are pretty formulaic, most times because it’s both an art and a business. Out of the endless amount of variables we have a mental catalog of “what works”, the fine balance of aesthetic and technology/art and science, and business.

  • Brian Snelson

    Interesting. My wife (who has become my ‘artistic director’ in that she suggests some things I should photo) says that when i have my camera with me I see only through the lens and less so what else is around me,
    What I find interesting is what I see in my photos as I go through them later – aspects I had not seen at the time.

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