5 ways photography helped with my recovery from illness

5 ways photography helped with my recovery from illness

Photography is a great way to express dealing with an experience and feelings that are too difficult to put into words

For me, this was when I was given a cancer diagnosis a number of years ago when I learnt I had stage III Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma with less than a 40% chance of survival.

"Throwing myself into photography helped me to forget about the treatment and was the catalyst to my recovery. It helped me on my journey back to life and gradually I realised that it was what I was meant to do in life."

Faced with a life-threatening illness, I underwent months of gruelling chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, radiotherapy and a splenectomy to combat the disease over a period of 4 years. During this incredibly difficult time, I picked up a camera for the first time to help with the situation and started taking pictures for my enjoyment. Not only did photography provide joy and happiness during the relentless treatment, it became one of the main reasons for living and provided a reason to survive.

Throwing myself into photography helped me to forget about the treatment and was the catalyst to my recovery.

It helped me on my journey back to life and gradually I realised that it was what I was meant to do in life. Ultimately, my first goal was to survive to make this dream of becoming a professional photographer a reality and so I became determined to survive before taking the steps to make photography my career. Following the illness, my photography went from strength to strength as I improved my skills and I turned pro in 2017, switching to photography as a full-time career after working in finance, as a qualified accountant for 20 years.

Improved mood


When faced with challenges of illness or mental well-being, photography is a great way to alleviate the associated feelings of anxiety and depression and ultimately improve your mood. I loved being outdoors and seeing nature’s beauty and found being out with my camera and capturing the landscape to be particularly inspiring and uplifting. The joy and excitement photography brought raised my spirits to new heights and improved my mental and emotional wellbeing. Breathing in fresh air while walking and witnessing amazing moments and subsequently recording these on camera is incredibly beneficial to your health and a great way to improve your happiness.

"This image to me evokes childhood memories of family times spent in the South of France" - f/11 | 1/20s | ISO 100

Greater mindfulness and positivity


Photography provides a form of mindfulness (also known as present state awareness), and helps you to be mindful, similarly to meditation. It helped me to live in the moment and appreciate the world around me through my lens.

"The sense of achievement from making a photograph you are pleased with is hugely rewarding and can change the way you feel about yourself for the better."

I was extremely grateful for the occasions I went out with my camera and the inspiration and positive energy this gave. Harnessing photography in this way does wonders for your health and well-being by giving you something to concentrate on in the present.

The process of aiming your lens on what is happening around you and capturing it as a physical memory helps you to develop positive thoughts of wonder and excitement. For example, creating an image of a magical sun set or an unexpected animal encounter unfolding can help to bolster a positive mindset, giving you a boost of confidence and enjoyment. The sense of achievement from making a photograph you are pleased with is hugely rewarding and can change the way you feel about yourself for the better. Appreciating what you have captured can be immensely satisfying.

"I like this image as it shows the freedom of an elephant and the expansive space in which it lives reflecting the freedom and relief I felt after being given the all clear" - 1/800 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200

Improved creativity and focus


Photography can help to improve your creativity and focus through the positive life experiences it brings. As photography is as an art form, it is also a ideal way to express yourself and your feelings while showcasing your creativity. I found photography to be a great relief from my pre-occupation with the illness and it provided a focus away from the exhausting treatment regime. I was able to detach from the situation and it can help you to separate from your responsibilities and issues. It really got my creative juices flowing and some of my best images were created during these challenging times. By feeling more focused and having a sense of purpose, I felt encouraged to pursue my passion.

"I had always wanted to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone and finally got to visit a few years ago. I particularly like this image of the hot springs because of its vibrant colour palette and steam rising from the surface, framed by the surrounding forest" - 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO 200

Relief from stress


Photography is said to be a great stress reliever and a way of reducing blood pressure. Taking part in photography and capturing images of beautiful landscapes, nature, wildlife, seascapes or of something you find interesting is also thought to be a great way to re-wire the mind and contribute to long-term improvements in mood, mental health and immune function. I developed an interest in photographing wonderful scenery and immersing myself in this certainly helped with my recovery and well-being.

 A special moment - "This image was shot in India on a special round the world trip after receiving the news that the cancer had gone into remission"
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f/11 | 1/13s | ISO 100

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Healing power of photography and therapeutic benefits


In my experience, there is definitely a connection between photography and healing.

"In my experience, there is definitely a connection between photography and healing."

I found photography to be a great distraction from worrying thoughts and a wonderful way to relax. The simple act of being creative and producing images you are proud of is particularly therapeutic. Being in a state of ‘flow’ which is evident when doing photography can help to calm the mind and relieve stress. Capturing inspiring scenery helped me to face and overcome the prospect of my own mortality through the therapeutic benefits photography gives.

"This was a wonderful moment when after driving up a mountain through thick fog, I arrived at the summit to witness a magical sunset above the sea of clouds." - f/11 | 2.5s | ISO 100

Besides creating photos, I really enjoyed looking at photos in magazines for inspiration, which both helped to rebuild my self-esteem and psychological resiliency.

"Showing my photos to friends and family and receiving pleasant feedback encouraged me to share my work with a larger audience."

Showing my photos to friends and family and receiving pleasant feedback encouraged me to share my work with a larger audience. I began sharing my images with the world on social media and receiving positive comments subsequently encouraged me to do some local exhibitions of my work and sell prints, making me feel better. You too can use photography as a therapeutic technique to help conquer illness, improve your mood and wellbeing and develop confidence.

Ultimately, photography is a great way to escape everyday challenges and improve your mental health. Spending time in nature with your camera can help you to feel better and participating in something you have a passion for will improve your feelings and mood.

Engaging in photography will also help you to reduce stress, be mindful and focus on the present, providing significant benefits to your health and happiness. Now it’s over to you to put these tips to the test and see how photography can help you with your situation.

All photos by Jeremy Flint.