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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.