Can photography teach us how to be more mindful and appreciative of our daily surroundings?
According to psychologists, “mindful photography” can be a healthy exercise to practice every now and then. The simple goal is to carry a camera (or a phone with a camera) for a whole day. Then throughout the day try to identify 5 different things you appreciate and take a picture of them.
The objects you choose to photograph can be anything: people, food, places, animals, nature, or a favorite book. The only thing that matters is that they represent something you appreciate in your life.
According to research (PDF), this “mindful photography” exercise has been shown to boost positive emotions and improve well-being. It helps you focus more on the positive things in your life, then take an actual step back to appreciate them by taking a moment to snap a photo.
Of course, we often take pictures of things we love and appreciate in the first place, so all photography can be considered a type of mindfulness exercise or gratitude exercise.
There have been multiple times when I’ve been in a really bad mood and I used photography as a therapeutic tool. I would just take a camera to a local park, or beach, or cemetery to find interesting things to take pictures of.
For me, photography was just a good reason to get out of the house, go exploring, and focus more on the things that were right in front of me.
In many ways, cameras are a great metaphor for our awareness.
When we take a picture, we have to first scope out our surroundings and find something meaningful to focus on. We might “zoom in” and focus on the details of something, or we might “zoom out” and focus on the bigger picture.
What mindful photography teaches us:
- Perspective – Photography teaches us the importance of perspective. Any photographer knows that an object can look very different depending on how you frame it and from what vantage point you choose to take a picture of it.
- Appreciation – Photography teaches us to discover things in our lives that we find meaningful and interesting. We don’t usually just take pictures of anything, but things that grab our attention in some way.
- Reflection – Photography gives us something valuable to look back at in the future. Save your pictures somewhere, because when you look back at them weeks, months, or years later it can often be an interesting experience that brings you back to that moment when you took the picture.
Overall, there are a lot of interesting lessons we can learn from mindful photography.
One thing I love most about photography is how simple and easy it is. Literally anyone with a camera can start taking pictures today with little experience. And most of us have a camera available to us, even if it’s just a camera built into our cellphones.
Most importantly, photography gives us a good reason to explore our world more and pay attention to our daily surroundings. This is the cornerstone of being more mindful and “in the moment.”
So if you’re looking for a new tool to add to your mental health kit, or an easy way to start flexing your creative muscles, consider trying this “mindful photography” exercise sometime soon.
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