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What is the Link Between Photography and 'Flow'?

Updated: Jun 20, 2021

What is Flow and why is it important for our wellbeing?

I’m sure most of us know the feeling – we get so immersed in what we are doing that we forget about everything else and time passes with our realising it. Most of us have also heard the term ‘being in the flow’. What we might not know is that research has been done in this area and the research would seem to indicate that being in this state is good for our mental well-being.

Italian-born psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, was the first to recognise and name the psychological concept of ‘flow’. He defined the concept after interviews with artists who reported that they would get so immersed in their work that they would forget about everything around them, even eating, sleeping and showering.

Flow is “a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work”. It is the state of the writer writing, the musician composing or performing, the artist, potter, sculptor engaging in their craft, the athlete ‘in the zone’, the dancer dancing, the cook creating a meal, the child at play - the list is endless.

Positive Psychology argues that when we are in a state of flow we lose consciousness of ourselves, move out of our head and into a more positive, rewarding state; a state of fulfillment. Research in this area indicates that people who experience flow on a regular basis have lower levels of depression and anxiety. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi actually goes so far as to say that flow is the secret to happiness,

If these claims are true, and the converse is also true that lack of flow sustains anxiety, it is a good reason to develop an interest, a hobby, a project in which we are really invested and in which we can become so fully involved that we regularly experience ‘flow’.

Photography as a flow activity

For me, photography is my flow activity. When I take my camera out and about I can forget all about my every day cares and concentrate on the activity at hand:

How will I frame the picture?

Which angle will I shoot from?

Will I try for a wide or shallow depth of field?

How can I get closer to my subject?

How do I get the best shot?

Photography is a subject that has vast potential for learning, for improvement, for creativity, for adventure, for enjoyment. It fits very well into Csíkszentmihályi’s explanation that, "Flow also happens when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable, so it acts as a magnet for learning new skills and increasing challenges." In that sense I have found my pursuit of photography to be a real ‘flow’ activity. Everyone will choose their own activity but it appears to be important to at least have some such activity which will develop our positive mental health and well-being.

I was delighted to get into full manual mode on this shoot. I experimented with depth of field using both 70-300mm zoom lens and 50mm fixed lens with low F-stop to create shallow depth of field on this promenade railing. I used the light meter to adjust shutter speed accordingly to give me the effect I wanted.

Here I wanted to achieve the star burst effect by using a high F-stop, in this case F16. These are my first few attempts.


Spending time with my camera observing, experimenting, discovering new techniques, overcoming challenges and enjoying the places I visit are activities that bring me into a flow state, a real anecdote to the stresses and anxieties of life.

There is a real link between photography and flow.

What is your flow activity?


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