We’ve been taking submissions for our Resilient Rivers Photography Exhibition throughout May, and seeing as it’s Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I’d take a look at some of the benefits photography (and nature photography in particular) can bring to people’s mental wellbeing. You might already be aware of the benefits on mental health of being outdoors and in green space, but when combined with photography it can create an immensely calming and mindful experience.
In my childhood I spent most of my time outdoors, exploring the town, the wee woodlands, and the stretches of the River Avon and Union Canal that my friends and I could reach by bike. I have very fond memories of those days, but at the time I would never have thought about any benefits it brought to the way I was feeling. It was only after moving to Glasgow for university that I started to really appreciate how differently I felt when I was in a green space. Odd weekends here and there when I made time to go for a walk in the countryside or up a hill became a real relief from the general stress of city centre living, the pressures of my course, and the social anxieties that often go along with that stage in people’s lives. Since then I have always appreciated how spending time in natural places gives me a genuine sense of calm contentment, and it’s one of the reasons I work in the field I do today.
I consider myself lucky that as an adult I am still able to spend much of my time outdoors, both at work and in my free time. With the restrictions we are all facing at the moment this has been limited somewhat recently, but I’ve been spending my daily ‘exercise time’ out by the Water of Leith or in the woods up the hill near where I live. Because most of my day is spent in the house and working from my tiny home office, I’ve been appreciating this time spent in nature all the more, and it’s given me a chance to spend a bit of time working on my nature photography skills.
The benefits of photography on mental wellbeing have been well studied. In one study, researchers at Lancaster University examined the effects of taking and sharing a photo a day on people with a variety of mental health diagnoses (and people with none). The report concluded that photography holds many benefits for people with all types of mental health issues. It gives you a chance to focus, and dedicate your mind entirely to a single activity, even for a short space of time. Finding a subject, trying different angles, changing positions to alter the light – it requires focus and can be an almost meditative task. In the case of wildlife photography, it can take a lot of patience, which is something that I personally find very beneficial. We live in a very fast-moving time, with technology and world events moving forward at a sometimes alarming rate. Having an activity that requires patience can help slow you down, while you wait for the bird you have been watching to land on a branch, or for the clouds to break to give your landscape photo the patches of blue sky it needs.
Photography also provides you with an artistic outlet, which many people may not have through other means. Immersing yourself in a creative activity is a proven way to lower stress hormone levels, which helps lower anxiety and elevate mood. The study above also asked participants to share their photos online, and having a creative work enjoyed and appreciated by other people also contributed to an improvement in mental wellbeing.
Apart from the general physical benefits of going for a walk with a camera, one participant in the study mentioned above who had suffered from depression actually noticed a physical change in his posture from taking part in nature photography. Where he would normally have been looking down, with a hunched posture, he found it encouraged him to look up at what was around him as he looked for subjects for his photos. Nature photography can get you moving not just by getting you out for a walk, but by getting you looking all around you, crouching down to inspect a flower or an interesting beetle, or clambering up a rise to get a wider view of a scene.
Nature photography is of course not limited to people with high-end equipment. The quality of smartphone cameras now allows almost anyone to capture beautiful high-quality images, just by spending a little time in a green or blue space near where you live. It can be a very therapeutic and rewarding hobby, and it’s the perfect time of year to start. The benefits of nature photography to your mental wellbeing might just be out there waiting for you.
If you want to submit a photo for our Almond & Avon Resilient Rivers Exhibition, click the button below!