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Can Photography Really Help Your Mental Well-Being?

In today’s world when we are unwell our first thought is to reach for the nearest medication we can our hands on, looking for that quick fix. The same is often true for our mental well-being, though sadly if we do not begin to change within ourselves the quick fixes are often short-term fixes. It is necessary for us to look at what changes we can make ourselves to improve our lives.

I don’t want to rave on that you should do this and do that as I certainly don’t have the answers, but I would like to share some experiences and thoughts about how photography can assist in developing or maintaining a sense of mental well-being.

A number of years ago I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast meeting at which the keynote speaker was Wayne Bennett, a man widely regarded as one of the best NRL coaches in the game. While Bennett shared a couple of humorous stories about his experiences as an NRL coach, he spoke about life experiences and dealing with its’ challenges. While a number of comments rang true, the main key takeaway that resonated with me was when he said that you needed just one thing to maintain a healthy work-life balance and this one thing is something you should try to make time to do everyday, or as regularly as possible. Of course the catch is that the one thing is different for everyone; for Wayne Bennett his one thing was running, for me it’s photography.

In society at present, particularly in light of the Covid crisis, many people are experiencing signs of stress, depression and anxiety and research has shown that involvement in the arts can assist in the easing of these symptoms. 

Photography can be a solo pursuit, done with a friend or a small group, but in each of these scenarios there is the opportunity to be at one with the environment you are shooting. You can lose yourself in what you are photographing; as you formulate the vision for your image you essentially become immersed in that scene as you focus all your attention on your photography. 

Similarly, the creativity applied to the creation of your images can help move from that headspace of worry and anxiety into a move peaceful and relaxed state. The patience that landscape photographers take in the creation of their images, waiting for the right light, the fall of the shadows, the rise or fall of the sun; these are all messages to your brain to wait, slow down and work in stark contradiction to the messages of anxiety and chaos.

While it may sound a little cliched to some people, but being out in nature photographing the ocean, a waterfall, sunrise or sunset and the like, helps me to reframe my thinking. It reminds me that I’m only a small piece of a, much larger, master puzzle and that maybe the issues I’m currently stressing about may not be as huge as I first thought. Maybe they are manageable.

A further suggestion I would make is that you consider your subject choice. Attempt to shoot subjects or landscapes that you find calming, appealing and again this is something that will be different for everyone. Some may wait to capture the setting sun, others a bird in flight, while others again may prefer the feel of a long exposure. The important thing is to shoot and do it for you.

The final piece of the puzzle in terms of your photography assisting your mental well-being is time. Take the time, preferably daily, to immerse yourself in your photography. This style of photography is all about you, you are shooting for you alone. Taking the time can help you step away from the stresses of life, losing yourself in that space of creativity and peacefulness. A regular recharge of your batteries makes you better equipped to handle those stressful time that arise and hopefully prevent the slide into depression.

In summation, the key ingredients that will allow photography to assist in the management of your mental well-being are:

  • Focus all your attention;
  • Express your creativity;
  • Patience in the pursuit;
  • Reframe your thinking;
  • Subject choice;
  • Take the time regularly.

Importantly, if you are feeling that you have more stress than you can handle or that the world seems to be closing in on you - talk to someone; a family member, a trusted friend, a medical professional.

Professional help:

Black Dog

Beyond Blue

Mental Health Australia

Headspace (Youth)