John and I were kindly given our first basic DSLR camera exactly a year ago when my dad was in his final weeks. At the time, I didn’t really have the presence of mind to analyse why I had such a strong urge to learn a skill I’d previously had no interest in, but over the last year of snapping away, I’ve had some time to think about why photography has been such vital grief therapy for me.
I was surprised to see that a recent study apparently found that photography lowers your awareness of your surroundings. In my opinion, learning basic photography has drastically increased my awareness of what’s around me, I’ve noticed far more detail and taken far more in because it’s trained me to think that way.
It might not be for everyone, but here are ten reasons why photography is an unlikely but totally worthwhile form of therapy.
Image © Emma Lucy Photography
It gives you a sense of accomplishment
Any hobby gives you a sense of accomplishment when you start to get good, but with photography there’s always something new to learn, which means the emotional payoff is instant and ongoing. I always feel good about myself when I get a shot I’m happy with, even if it was a fluke, or when I discover something new about using my camera.
It’s a reason to get back out there
When my dad passed away I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I stayed at home with my camera until I’d taken about a zillion pictures of the cats and photographed everything in our house. Then I got bored because I’d run out of things to photograph inside. I had to go out and find some more inspiration. Without the camera I think I would have completely isolated myself.
It’s something to hide behind
If you’re shy or easily overwhelmed, or just having a hard time, social interactions can be daunting and difficult. A camera gives you something to hide behind if you’re feeling nervous or like you don’t want to participate at that moment.
It’s a talking point
Lots of people either have some photography knowledge or are curious about photography. Having a camera and knowing how to use it makes a great ice breaker and talking point. The last five or six social events I’ve been to where I’ve had my camera, I’ve found a good hour’s conversation in the shared photography interest.
Pictures make great gifts
What could be a better gift than giving someone a striking portrait of themselves, or a picture of a beloved pet? Pictures you’ve taken make great gifts and thank you notes, especially if you’re not particularly cashed up! They also say a lot about the subject – a sensitive moment you’ve caught reveals more about how you feel about someone than words. Well, you know what they say about pictures and 1000 words…
It documents people and places you love
If I had to psychoanalyse myself now, I’d say part of the reason I picked up that first camera was because I was losing someone I loved and I wanted to preserve everyone else. Pictures capture memories and immortalise them. Photographs I’ve taken at my happiest moments still elevate my spirits every time I look at them.
It cultivates an artistic eye
Maybe you didn’t think of yourself as an artist, but photography definitely helps you to be aware of how to frame things, edit them and present them, which helps you see the world in a different way.
It can help with your career
It has certainly helped with mine. I’m no Rankin, but it’s nice not to have to phone a photographer every time I want to shoot a DIY post or a product. Moving forward is healing, as is achieving professionally.
It’s something to do with your hands
Ever wanted to quit smoking? Stop biting your nails? Photography gives you an excellent reason to keep your hands busy and away from that cigarette packet.
It helps you see the beauty in everything
When you’re feeling down it’s easy to see the world in the bleakest of terms. Photography forces you to find beauty everywhere, to look for fascinating and unique subjects and to find reasons to be excited again. For that reason alone I’d argue it’s one of the most powerful therapeutic tools out there.