It is now 3 years since I returned to photography, and I have received so many unexpected benefits from this amazing pursuit.
I have been taking more time in nature, I have become more observant and more appreciative of the world around me.
Photography has enriched my life in numerous ways over the last few years so I want to shout about it!
Here are 10 ways in which I believe photography can be of benefit and add to our lives in a positive way. These benefits may overlap at times, but many of the things that have been proven by research to enhance our health and wellbeing do overlap and complement one another.
1. Photography encourages us to become part of the great outdoors
New research published by Harvard Health, a branch of Harvard Medical School, suggests that for many people who suffer from depression, anxiety, stress and mood disorders, “interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use." https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature (pub. March 2021).
Just by taking a walk in nature, immersing ourselves in the outdoor life, we can reduce stress and anxiety and lift our mood.
There is a vast amount of research which will back up these claims.
In 2020, researchers at Cornell University found that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help us feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress.
When we are outdoors, we get away from staring at our screens or being bombarded by notifications, and we can forget about targets and tasks to be completed. We can leave behind our worries, breathe deeply of the fresh outdoor air and feel a renewed sense of calm.
Photography is a pursuit that primarily takes place outdoors. Street photography, landscape photography of all kinds, close-up nature photography, and sometimes portrait photography, necessitate spending time outdoors.
It is landscape and nature photography that offers me the most opportunities for spending time outdoors.
I love to bring my camera on my morning walk, but even when I don’t my phone camera is always at the ready to experiment with what is on offer in the morning light.
Walking through woodlands, strolling along by the seashore, climbing hills; being exposed to trees and sky and the sounds of nature, are all beneficial to our wellbeing and as we concentrate on making images we are subconsciously connecting with nature at the same time.
The research article quoted above suggests some ways in which we can spend more time outdoors.
I would add photography to this list.
Like gardening, photography can be a mindful activity, taking us away from our stresses and worries into a calm and mindful state. It combines movement with being outdoors in nature, which adds to the benefits.
The following quote sums up the research into the benefits of spending more time outdoors:
“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human wellbeing,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature. “You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.” https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature
2. Photography gets us moving
It’s hard to do most types of photography while standing still.
Doing portraits in a studio might be an exception but, generally speaking, photography involves movement.
Sometimes it involves a lot of movement.
I usually spend at least an hour walking around a location, looking out for a photo opportunity.
And that’s just when I photograph close to home.
When I visit a new location, I will want to make the best use of my time and discover the full potential of the place so I might spend two or three hours wandering around with my camera.
I always consider this to be time well spent because even if I don’t come away with great images, I have had lots of movement, and that can only be beneficial.
3. Photography increases our confidence
One of the ways in which we can become more confident is by perfecting our skills at what we do.
As we develop in competency, we grow in confidence.
Photography is a skills-based activity, where we continually learn new skills, find new approaches to doing things, discover what we like and dislike and adjust our thinking to accommodate new learning.
As we develop our unique photography ‘voice’ we become more secure in our own ability and better able to express ourselves through our images.
And photography is a hobby that we can start at any age!
4. Photography encourages us to stay in the present moment
It is difficult not to be in the moment when taking a photograph.
Unless we spend our time aimlessly snapping what we see around us, we will want to take our time, be present to the scene around us, compose carefully and observe closely what is happening in what can be a quickly changing environment.
We will be aware of light and how it is affecting our subject, of the potential for drama in the sky as clouds form and move above us, and we will be attentive to other elements such as colour, shadows, reflections and shapes that influence our images.
Photography keeps us alive to the moments and aware of what is happening instead of becoming distracted by the noise and busyness of life. It also helps us to appreciate and enjoy the moments as we capture them with our camera.
Check out my post on how photography can help us to appreciate life’s precious moments.
5. Photography can enhance our cognitive skills as we age
Photography is a pursuit that can be engaged in by people of all ages.
A lot of the research carried out in relation to active aging would seem to bear out the idea that being engaged in a pursuit can improve memory and keep the mind focused, thereby mitigating age-related cognitive decline.
Apart from the difficulty for older people in carrying heavy equipment, photography is a relatively easy pastime to engage in and many older adults who turn to photography during retirement years find that it helps them keep mentally alert and engaged.
And with the popularity of mobile photography, having to bring along heavy gear no longer has to be an issue.
A strong motivation to keep shooting!
6. Photography can help to focus the mind
For those for whom life is busy juggling the demands of work, family and personal time, in other words for most people, photography is a great way to focus our minds on just one thing.
When we are making images, we have to concentrate on the task at hand if we want to create an image that is properly focused, well exposed, carefully composed and pleasing to the eye. It is not something that can be done while replying to an email or text message (even in your head!) or when planning your next task. It requires your full attention and a clear mind, but the rewards are definitely worthwhile.
7. Photography can help to calm the mind
Strolling along close to nature, watching out for potential images while listening to birds singing, waterfalls gushing, leaves rustling or rivers gurgling, cannot help but bring on a state of calm. If you walk slowly, you will see more, observe and hear the little things that you might not normally notice, and absorb more of your surroundings.
Listen as well as look…
Take it easy…
Don’t chimp, just concentrate on the task at hand…
And relax…no image will be perfect.
8. Photography can get us into a ‘flow’ state
The founder of the term flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes flow as a state of complete immersion in an activity, a state in which people are completely involved and focused on what they are doing. This state is also referred to as being ‘in the zone’. www.positivepsychology.com/theory-psychology-flow/
It is considered to be a very healthy state which leads to increased fulfilment, satisfaction and happiness.
Many areas of life – music, art, dance, writing – produce this state. Photography, too, can easily lead us into a state of flow; actively and fully engaged in making images.
9. Photography helps us develop our creativity
Photography is a creative pursuit.
It may not be creative in the sense that painting or composing a piece of music are creative, but we are still creating when we compose and capture our image.
The camera is the tool, but the photographer is the creator of the image and every image we make is a product of our imagination and a result of our creative skill.
As we progress in photography, we can allow our creative selves more leeway to produce images that are unique and that express our inner voice as creator.
In photography, through the images we make and share, we find a way of showing how we view the world, of expressing what is important to us.
Photography is about being a visual communicator, it is about paying attention to what is special in life and finding ways to present this experience to the world.
10. Photography encourages a more mindful approach to life
There are many ‘gateways’ to living a less stressed, more mindful life. All we have to do is find the one that suits us.
For me, that gateway is photography.
Photography has taught me to slow down, to become more observant, to be more mindful, not just when I am out taking photographs, but in everyday life also.
I have come to value the importance of observing more closely, appreciating beauty and noticing little things, which has actively encouraged me to live more fully in the moment and to adopt a more mindful approach to life.
I hope that these thoughts have convinced you to give photography a try. It could be exactly what you need!
You may like to read some of my other posts on reaping the benefits of photography.