How Photography Can Improve Your Mental Health

You don’t need to be an expert to benefit from a photographer’s-eye view of the world.

When I woke up last Sunday morning, I didn’t have to look out of my window to be able to see what kind of day mother-nature had in store for me. During the previous night Storm Ciara had been making her presence known — howling wind, lashing rain, and creaking trees had all worked together in not so perfect harmony to stop me from sleeping for any longer than a couple of hours.

I woke up on Sunday and it was more of the same.

I remember picking up the newspaper that lay beside my bed and starting to read, trying to distract myself from the meteorological orchestra that was playing outside of my windows.

Robots are replacing bartenders in Japan and in the Netherlands, the main center for administering legal euthanasia has reported an increase of 22% in requests to use their service over the last year.

It didn’t take long for me to put the newspaper back down.

On days like Sunday, when there seems to be a grey cloud that follows me no matter what I do, I will often pick up my camera and go out to see what the world is saying to me.

I have learned that the world can talk if you listen carefully enough.

The trouble is that most of the time we have our own agenda of what we want to say to the world. We get so caught up in making demands of the world based on this agenda, that we forget to stop and listen.

I want to go out and enjoy sunny weather, I want to read the newspaper and be revitalized by positive stories, I want to watch television and be suitably entertained.

I want, I want...

But, sometimes the world doesn't give us what we want. This forces us to stop making demands and listen.

There is a lot to gain from what we are told.

With a photographer's eye, you can begin to see a language in nature that you looked past before.

This language, in my experience, is always beautiful. Irrespective of the havoc that seems to be at play — gale-force winds swaying trees to breaking point, torrential rain soaking houses and pavements — there is a beauty that underlies this.

A photographer's eye looks for what nature is trying to say, it is constantly listening in a visual sense for that message.

So, when you go out with your camera, try to foster this ability to hear through your eyes, despite how ridiculous it might sound.

On Sunday, I walked past a river on my way into the town center near my home in Carlisle, a small town in northern England. I routinely walk past this river and don’t afford it a second glance, but on Sunday with my photographer’s eye, I stopped and I listened.

The river seemed angry, but it was righteous anger. The water flowed with urgency, it was working together with the wind which pushed it ever-forwards and left its fingerprint on its murky surface in the form of wide-ranging ripples. A perfect partnership of wind and water. White froth collected in patches on the rivers’ surface, they looked like the remnants of the water that weren’t quite up to the task that the wind had asked of it.

The river was speaking its truth.

Author’s Photos

As I stood taking these photos the wind was kneading the skin of my face. I was uncooked dough in nature’s hands. Strands of my hair swung back and forth over my eyes and I felt water splash me, was it the river? Probably not, I was too far from its body, it was most likely a spit of rain.

I was a part of the natural order of the world when I stood there. Specifically, I felt like I was a part of the wind and the river — they had recognized my presence and were welcoming me into their dance. It was a soothing experience, my body was relaxing and my mind was calming.

I am no expert in photography, but experience has taught me a few things about how to approach taking a photo if I want it to have a therapeutic effect on me.

When I am looking for an image to capture I am in a state of mind that is humble in the wake of existence. I am waiting for nature to give me its message. I am not trying to force myself to find a particular kind of photo, I am waiting for the photo to find me.

Hours can pass as I walk and listen, camera in hand. I forget about all of my wants and desires. All of my anxieties seem insignificant and any depression that afflicts me is temporarily abated. I become lost in my observation of the natural world.

In general, all of my demands of the world have faded into insignificance, because I realize that what the world has to say is so much more meaningful and beautiful than anything that I could demand of it.

Once I had passed the river, I only had to walk a few minutes further and I arrived in more urban surroundings.

With a photographer's eye, I have noticed that even when nature seems to be absent — amid a built-up city, surrounded by high-rises and grey concrete walls — nature is still there, lying latent beneath a superficial glance. Whereas the river spoke to me with real volume, like it was shouting for my attention, in a town center nature is far more subtle in its call. It’s like a whisper that you have to be extremely attentive to hear.

A few hundred meters away from the town center I felt my eyes drawn to the pavement below me. What was drawing me? Water from the puddles on the pavement below me was slowly reaching out from its resting place and grasping at my feet through the loosely wired cotton mesh of my shoes.

I could hear this sign of life below me. It drew my eyes downwards.

Author’s Photos

These little emerald clouds strewn across the pavement are an example of ‘Schistidium’, a particular variety of moss. The moss in my photos could be one of eight different types of Schistidium. From a passing glance, it is hard to understand why so many specific categories are needed, but when you get up close and personal with one of these patches you quickly see that they are far more complex than you initially assumed. I understand why the experts say that they are their own “miniature ecosystems”.

These little islands of forestation had a life of their own; they still swayed in the wind — I could see each individual blade of dark green moss move gently when I looked closely enough.

Whilst I took these photos, my feet became increasingly coated in the water of the puddle that also enveloped the small patches of Schistidium. This water, that had no boundaries, was connecting me to this small world at my feet. I moved my toes and felt the water move in-between them.

If you receive an embrace from a loved one who has been out in torrential rain, you don’t mind them dripping water all over you, because you value their presence more than your superficial comfort. I felt the same, feet deep in a puddle of water observing the life of the Schistidium — what did I care about having wet socks, when I was part of something more meaningful than that.

When I look back over the photographs that I took on my walk I am immediately transported back to the time I spent listening to what the world had to say to me. I can remember what I heard quite vividly.

These memories remind me of the deep and meaningful effect that the natural world can have on your mental health. All you need is a willingness to listen to what the world has to say.

My experiences with photography have helped me to understand why the romantic poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were so eager to describe the minutiae of nature’s beauty. They didn’t have access to cameras, but they had a pen and paper — their heart-felt writing would put most of my photos to shame. But I take heart in the fact that we are appreciating the same kind of beauty, the beauty of the natural world.

Camera or not, if you approach the natural world with a photographer's eye you will always end up seeing something that will touch you on a deep level. You will feel that sense of connection that deserts you so easily in everyday life because nature will always welcome you into its embrace.

Thanks For Reading,

Antony Pinol

Twenty-nine years old. Living in Carlisle in England. Graduate in Philosophy. Caregiver. Christian. Writer. Contact: antonypinol22@gmail.com

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