HOW CAN PHOTOGRAPHY IMPACT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH?
This week is World Mental Health week and after the last couple of years mental health has become a big focus for many people. Photography, as well as being an artform, can be seen as a form of therapy. So what are the mental health benefits of going out with your camera and taking photographs?
Mindfulness - Living in the Moment
Taking a mindful approach to using your camera can often be classed as a form of meditation. Slowing down the process can help with this, taking time to think about what you’re doing and the context around you, rather than snapping away indiscriminately. Try and challenge yourself to making one or maybe two shots. Film photography (link) is something that can guide you into this; there is a forced slowness to film photography, and of course the limitation with the number of frames on the film.
The extra focus that you can learn to apply when photographing can also be carried through into other areas of your life, enabling you to pick up on nuances and details you might not have previously noted.
Focusing on nothing but the image you can help you clear your mind of other negative thoughts, if only for a short while. Being ‘in the zone’ can make time ‘disappear’, forgetting everything else and making something meaningful that you can look back on with joy.
Art has scientifically been shown to reduce stress and also gives another outlet to express emotions such as worry and depression. This can be either by taking part and making your own images, or by collaborating with others and using photography to visually depict how we, or others, are feeling and can even help to physically reduce the stress hormone, cortisol.
Reframing the World
Right from its inception, photography has been a tool to help us interpret the world around us. The way a person captures an image will be their own unique perspective, born out of their history and their take on the world. You are given the opportunity to curate and reframe the world around you. YOU choose what you want in the frame and what you leave out of it. It can help you make sense of things.
Creativity gives you another tool to express yourself in different ways, to be able to express things that you might not be able to verbalise. Plus there is something particularly pleasing about envisioning an image and then seeing it in print, on your wall.
Often seen as a solitary activity, photography can also bring people together. You belong to part of a community and finding likeminded individuals can have a huge benefit on mental health. We all need a tribe! A shared interest can automatically give you something to connect over and break the ice. There are many different types of groups out there from workshops, to photo walks, to camera clubs that can help you find a community; and that is good for your mental health. I have formed lifelong friendships through my photography.
And it’s not just a connection with other people but also a connection with our surroundings, and especially with nature (for example, with landscape and wildlife photography). Your camera can encourage you to get out there and explore in a way that is different to when you’re just taking a stroll. The art of observing something, choosing subject matter, discovering new angles, playing with light – can be a meditative task.
Is there a negative impact?
Taking all the above into account, it’s also important to question whether photography can negatively impact mental health.
As with any activity we take part in, pushing something too hard can lead to burn out. If it starts to feel more of an effort than fun, as something you ‘have' to do, rather than ‘want’ to do, then it might be time to take a break. A break can be just as important for your creativity, it’s in those quiet times that new ideas can seed and grow.
It is also important not to compare yourself to others. Just like most art, photography is subjective. Learn from others but don’t compare your journey to theirs, we are all on a different one.
And in the end you just need to pick up your camera, have fun and, go and capture the images that make you happy.