“A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.” – Dorothea Lange
In this study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a series of nine experiments were conducted to examine the effect of taking photographs of an experience on people’s enjoyment of an activity. In each experiment, individuals were asked to participate in an activity (e.g., taking a bus tour or eating in a food court) and were either instructed to take photos during the activity or not.
Afterward, participants completed a survey designed to measure not only their enjoyment but their engagement in the experience. In almost every case, people who took photographs reported higher levels of enjoyment. The authors of these experiments explain that “one critical factor that has been shown to affect enjoyment is the extent to which people are engaged with the experience.” Interestingly, Diehl and her colleagues also discovered that this effect is not limited to the action of taking pictures. Participants in one experiment reported higher levels of enjoyment after just taking “mental” pictures as they were going through the experience.
Taking photographs has also been linked with helping to ease anxiety and depression. For many people, the act of taking or editing the photos is very therapeutic, and working with your photos afterwards can be as well (asking questions about them, writing stories about them, etc.).
Bryce Evans created the ONE project for the photography community and for people suffering from depression and anxiety. The ONE project a private online platform to allow a safe space for people to share these stories, while providing education about therapeutic photography (the healing power of photography) techniques through online courses and other resources. Bryce describes how photography saved his life on this TEDx Talk .
Below are some ways that photography can be used as a therapeutic tool:
- Motivation to get outside and connect with nature.
- Provides a shift in perspective (you’re literally looking through a new/different lens, often seeing the world differently).
- You begin searching for and finding beauty in the world.
- Photography acts as non-verbal communication, which can be huge when dealing .with issues like depression or anxiety that are hindered by stigma.
- Many people experience a “flow” state with photography, but often it simply helps you to focus externally — rather than getting caught up in the thoughts racing through your mind.
- You gain control of how you frame the world.
- Your photos can provide powerful self-expression and reflection.
- Photographs often allow positive feedback from others, which can be huge when going through depression or dealing with anxiety.
- Photography can be very social, helping to establish social bonds.
- Photography can be a connection to your subconscious mind, helping you to discover powerful personal insights about the cause behind your depression. Often the answers we seek externally are found within us.