How you can harness the power of photography to boost your wellbeing

Beginner

In the past few years, there’s been a huge shift towards the importance of looking after our mental health. Photography can be a fantastic tool to help improve your wellbeing, with lots of photographers - and even those who may never have picked up a camera before - discovering the healing benefits the medium can have.

There are lots of reasons why photography can be considered positive for our mental health, but you might want to think about the following:

Mindfulness

This has become a bit of a trendy phrase of late, referring to immersing yourself fully in the moment and focusing your mind on one task. Photography is the perfect mindful task since you can literally and metaphorically focus on what is front of you.

Creativity, expression and control

The benefits of creativity and art for our mental health have long been explored, and photography can be used as a means of expressing ourselves and our innermost thoughts. A photograph, shoot or project is something that we can also have complete control over - which can be a real tonic in an otherwise hectic world.

Connectivity

Especially in this modern age, photography can be used as a way to connect to others. Whether that’s through social media platforms such as Instagram, or through clubs and societies that bring photographers together, there’s a huge sense of community when it comes to photography.

Physicality

Although photography is something you can do almost anywhere, including at home, a lot of photography is about getting outside, getting your body moving, and experiencing the world around us. This can be a huge boost to  both your physical and mental health.

If you’re not sure how to use photography as a positive benefit to your own mental health, are some straightforward things you could try.

1 Leave your phone behind


Although smartphones undoubtedly have excellent camera capabilities these days, there is something refreshing about unplugging from the world and heading out with the sole focus of taking pictures.

"Switch off from all communication and just look around you for inspiration."

Therefore, if you’ve got a standalone camera, try going out with just that - even for only half an hour. Switch off from all communication and just look around you for inspiration. If you don’t have a dedicated camera, try switching your phone to “airplane” mode to remove all communication from it.

This could be something that you practice at a specific time each week (say for an hour on a Sunday morning, for example) - even if it’s just as simple as putting your phone on silent, sticking it in your pocket and vowing not to look at it for a set period of time.

Try leaving your phone behind and concentrating solely on using a standalone camera. Photo by Eduardo Gonzalez

2 Immerse yourself in research


Having something which you have complete control over can be an excellent boost to our mental health - especially if there are other areas of your life which are a bit more chaotic.

Planning a photography shoot and spending some time to really drill down into the details of locations, finding props and/or models and so on can be a great way to focus your mind on something positive. And as an extra benefit, your photography will usually be better for it, too.

Spending time researching potential photo subjects and projects can give your mind much-needed focus. Photo by rodwey2004

3 Set yourself an ongoing project


On a similar theme, having a long-running project that you can always return to, especially in moments where you might not be feeling your best, is a fantastic way to boost your mental health.

"Creating a body of work that you can feel proud of when it’s finished... is something that can also provide an ongoing comfort."

Creating a body of work that you can feel proud of when it’s finished, or when it’s been going on for a long time, is something that can also provide an ongoing comfort.

Ideally, your ongoing project will be something that is quite simple and straightforward to maintain - making it easy to return to whenever you need it. It could be something as simple as photographs of your neighbourhood, or it could be something more in-depth, but having something which is solely yours is always a wise move.

An ongoing project that you can return to - but that which is relatively straightforward - can be a rewarding practice. Photo by Amy Davies from a project on shops

4 Practice mindfulness techniques when taking photographs 


By its very nature, photography is quite a mindful process already. You are required to search for subjects to photograph, to focus on what is in front of you, think about compositions and spend time evaluating the scene in terms of aspects such as light and shadow.

You can do all of this and more to help you be really in the moment when taking pictures. Spend some time thinking about other senses, such as sounds and smells, that you experience as you’re taking your pictures, look for hidden details that you might otherwise miss when you’re rushing around in your day-to-day life and really think about everything that you’re including in the frame before you hit the shutter button (and everything that you’re excluding). 

Each time you take a picture, practice mindfulness. Consider sights, smells, sounds, light, shadow and everything in between. Photo by Amy Davies

5 Try combining photography with writing 


Photography can be a fantastic way of expressing or exploring your emotions - whether they be positive or negative.

You might find that you get even more from it if you also combine it with writing. This could be in the form of an extended caption in an album, a journal entry with a photo that goes alongside it, or even something a little bit  more involved such as a website or blog.

Don’t worry too much about the quality of your prose, just get your feelings out, and you’ll likely find that it improves over time and with practice too.

By using writing alongside your photography, you will have an extra outlet for your emotions. Photo by Tetra Images.

6 Find an outlet for your photography 


Having a place to share your work will help with the sense of pride and achievement you feel when you take your images.

It will also give you accountability and purpose for things like long-term projects and ongoing work, rather than just letting your images sit languishing on a hard drive.

Try not to pressure yourself into updating anything any more regularly than you feel is necessary, and you may also find it helpful to switch off commenting unless you specifically want feedback on your work.

Displaying your photography somewhere will give you a real sense of pride and achievement, and it will keep you accountable. Photo by SIBAShouse

7 Make time for yourself to destress


Taking yourself on a quick photography walk, even if it’s just 15 minutes, can be a fantastic way to destress when you’re finding a day to be overwhelming.

"Taking yourself on a quick photography walk... can be a fantastic way to destress when you’re finding a day to be overwhelming."


This can be a good way of using photography as a quick and simple way to help your mental health without it being a big in-depth project that you have to dedicate a lot of time to. You could also make it a part of your routine, perhaps at the end of your normal working day, which can also help to make you feel calmer.

A good tip is to set off from your home with a specific, but basic, subject in mind. That could be a colour, a number, or something else relatively easy to find. Focusing on that single task for just a few minutes can help to clear other thoughts and problems away.

Even just 15 minutes completely focused on photography at the end of a stressful day can be a good routine to get into. Photo by Amy Davies

8 Connect with others 


Photography can be a very solitary hobby, which is great in some circumstances. Losing yourself in the wilderness, or in a peaceful landscape are all great ways to connect with nature and practice mindfulness techniques.

However, you can also use your photography as a way out of feelings of isolation and loneliness and connect with others. Try joining Facebook groups of like-minded individuals - there are lots of photography related groups. You could also join other types of groups which aren’t necessarily strictly about photography - such as walking groups or local community groups - and combine two interests together.

Photography can be a great way to bond with and make connections with others. Photo by imagerisium
Editor's note:

Mind The Lens
Throughout the month of October Picfair is running Mind the Lens - an exploration of the relationship between photography and mental health, with featured content, social media takeovers and up to £20,000 in grants for related projects. Find out more here.