I am going to preface this article by saying I am not a therapist nor have I been clinically diagnosed with mental health issues. However, I am a photographer that suffers from severe ups and downs, and more importantly I recognise those ups and downs.
Those of you that have followed my journey here on Light Stalking or on social media will know that my wife Tania and I have had to flee our home in Ukraine and effectively start a new life in the UK. That put both of us under immense strain, however, one thing that helped get me through was photography.
Today I want to talk about how photography can help you through tough times mentally, and how it can level out the highs and lows.
A walk is well known to help improve your mental health. However, if like me, you find walking with no aim a touch boring, then why not take a camera along with you? You will get the benefit of fresh air and exercise along with mental stimulation of your creativity.
You might not think that you live in a particularly photogenic area. However, if you time your photography walks during the golden hours, you will see your neighborhood in a new light, pun intended.
The most mundane scenes can be transformed by beautiful light and creative composition. You will slow down, stop and take more and more photos, increasing the time you are outside in the beautiful fresh air.
Don’t feel like taking your camera out on your walk? Perhaps it’s too heavy. Well, the chances are that you are taking a camera out regardless, the one on your phone. Smartphones are ideal for casual wanders and can give a genuine boost to your creativity and mental well-being. Top tip though, put your phone in airplane mode, this will prevent the urge to scroll through your social media accounts whilst walking. Another thing that can be very stimulating on a walk is to listen to photography podcasts. You can learn new stuff, get exercise, and even still take photos whilst listening.
If you are under a lot of long-term, continuous pressure, then a challenge or a project can give you a boost. A challenge might be anything from learning a new photographic technique to capturing a local landmark in a unique and beautiful way. A challenge will focus your mind on something positive over the medium term.
Set yourself a realistic challenge and also a realistic time frame. Don’t set out to achieve the aims of your challenge in one weekend, rather look towards shooting several times with the aim of improving shots on every attempt.
Projects are good for medium to longer-term mental health. They are like challenges only you will produce more images and hopefully tell a story with your photography. A project can be anything. Shooting all the green coloured doors in your town, and documenting urban wildlife in your area, the potential themes are limitless.
One project I did a few years back helped me get through the grief of losing a close family member. It was called Glimpses of London and I wrote about the experience here. Talking of writing, if you have a little experience as a photographer, why not write a blog about it? Again this is a great way to improve your mental well-being and bring your knowledge forward to others.
As I write this, the first snow of winter is falling outside my window. It is very pretty but that’s not going to last long. The days are short, the weather grey and monotone. Not the best conditions for mental well-being.
There are things you can do photographically to ease you through the darkness of the winter. Personally, I find cleaning my camera gear very therapeutic. This is especially so if you have packed that gear away during a low period of lows.
Getting your gear out, feeling it in your hand, playing with buttons and dials, and looking through the viewfinder can all help pull you away from the humdrum of modern life.
Getting out the blower brush, clothes and sensor swaps not only leads to a nice clean camera but also the desire to go out and use that nice clean camera.
If your camera is already clean enough to eat your dinner off, then why not fire up Lightroom, Photoshop, or any other editing app? You can try to learn some new editing techniques. These take time, and practice and are excellent ways to improve your well-being.
Pull up some old images and edit them with more modern software and techniques. You will be surprised by how much you can improve those older shots. They will also inspire you to take more.
One thing that can lower your mental health is not meeting your own expectations. This is especially true in photography. How many times have you been out to shoot only to have your initial enthusiasm dampened when you bring the shots into Lightroom?
If your mental wellness is fragile, this can have a damaging effect on your morale. To this end, it’s important that if you are shooting to improve your well-being, your photography should be fun and educational. Don’t set out to learn an entire new genre in a weekend or to capture the Mona Lisa of photos, that’s not going to happen. Instead, take small steps towards achievable goals, ones that will end with you being a better photographer with better images and most importantly better mental well-being.
As I said at the top, I am not a therapist. However, for me and the many of us who go through extremes of mood, photography can be a godsend. It can ease us through grief, stress, and other dark periods of our lives. It can fuel our creativity and inspire not only ourselves but also others. It can serve to even out our highs and lows, and that can only be a good thing.