How Photography Helps My Physical And Mental Wellbeing

Photography as a hobby has a multitude of positive benefits, not least of all on your physical and mental health.

I was reminded of this over the past weekend I’ve not been so well, with a stomach ailment.

As I’ve discovered previously, when my digestive system isn’t at full health, it tends to have a significant impact on my mental outlook too.

Reading the Clever Guts book a couple of years back helped confirm what I’d subconsciously suspected – and certainly experienced – for years.

The book explains that our gut is home to “the microbiome, trillions of microbes that influence our mood, weight and immune system”.

So I know that when my digestive system is off kilter, I’m not likely to be seeing the world with my usual relatively positive and optimistic outlook.

I tend to be gloomy, irrational, and the frequency and volume of thoughts and images in my mind overall seems to drastically increase.

Knowing this is temporary is at least of some help.

And fortunately there are other activities that always seem to help too. One of the best of these is walking out in nature, usually in the woods.

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This I think goes back to my childhood, as I grew up next to woods and fields and played outside often. Also my grandad was a farmer, as was his son, my uncle, and we spent considerable time around them both as children, in very rural surroundings.

Trees, fields and rivers were a major feature of my early years, and I’ve kept them so into adulthood.

So back to the last few days, despite being in considerable discomfort, I donned my wellies and took myself off to the local woods on two separate occasions.

Of course you don’t need a camera to be able to go for a walk in the woods. But for me it enhances the experiences in two ways. 

First, it gives you an excuse to go in the first place. “I’m going to the woods to take some photographs” is more appealing and motivating than just “I’m going to the woods”, to one who loves finding and capturing beautiful things as photographs.

Second, being a photographer opens your eyes in different ways, and you tend to look more closely and more curiously at your surroundings, your photographer’s eyes seeking out those appealing compositions.

Just by holding a camera, you have that presumption that you will use it, and so you’re looking for worthwhile opportunities. 

Any kind of walking is of course beneficial for all kinds of reasons, and in the woods the air is generally very clean and fresh, so one’s lungs are given a thorough flush through too.

So my physical wellbeing is improved simply because I’m out walking, exercising and enjoying fresh air.

And my mental wellbeing is improved by repeatedly exposing myself to beautiful surroundings, then capturing a few of them on camera.

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As the woods also tend to be quiet, aside from the occasional dog walker, this further helps me, being someone who values time alone.

The photographs in this post that I made in the woods aren’t the most spectacular or original I’ve ever made. But more importantly, they helped improve my health, which is invaluable.

How about you, how does photography help your health and wellbeing? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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19 thoughts on “How Photography Helps My Physical And Mental Wellbeing”

  1. This topic is very actual for me. Was looking for your E-mail address to write you in private, but didn’t find on your web.

      1. In Manhattan there’s Central Park, but that’s just carefully placed trees and not really rural enough for me … there are huge forests up in Vermont and so on, but not locally that I know of. Funnily enough up in Glasgow there are some incredible parks which had some of the best woodland I’ve ever seen. Rouken Glen Park which was named the best park in 2016 is one of my favourites. Vast with different areas including areas for children, hilly fields, exercise machines along the way, terrific woods and all with a wonderful river running through it. There are paths throughout and yet it’s not manicured in any way, just well maintained, free of litter and no dog poo anywhere. There’s even a hose by the entrance in which to wash your dog after a muddy walk! I spent many, many happy days there.

      2. How far away is Vermont?

        Rouken Glen Park sounds fantastic. Whilst I love the untouched woodlands, it’s great to have parks with areas for children, picnics etc, but that also have parts of them that are more natural and rambly rather than all perfectly coiffeured.

      3. Vermont is five or six hours by car, although to be honest just getting out of Manhattan can take an hour! But once there, it’s quite magnificent in its enormity. Yes, Rouken Glen was lovely …

      4. Five or six hours? That’s about how far we drive for a week’s holiday, ha ha, I thought it was rather closer. Might be a good weekend trip though?

  2. I couldn’t agree more Dan. I also grew up among farms and fields, and that’s why I left the city years ago. Getting out to a woodsy area was a huge hassle and I really missed it. I get out pretty often now, although most of my daily walks are along the road. We are not to near a forest or hiking trails and I would have to use the car to get there, we are much more restricted as far as private land goes than you are. I do enjoy photographing our neighbors fields and cows which I do have access to since I help him out around the farm sometimes. When I have stomach issues I’ve found that raw sauerkraut and kimchi helps me feel better, I put it in my bowl of chicken soup like Korean lady who owned the restaurant downstairs from my apartment in Vermont used to do. Hope you are back in the pink soon.

    1. Thanks Jon. Yeh we are blessed with a wonderful network of public foothpaths, bridleways and other permissive routes. Which means anyone can walk across fields and woods that are otherwise private, as long as they stick to the public right of way.

      That’s interesting about the sauerkraut, I’ve read that’s one of the “wonderfoods” for bowel issues before, in the Clever Guts book. Think I’ll have to seek some out. Just googled kimchi, and there are some tasty look recipes, so thanks for that tip too!

  3. We’re blessed here in the Pacific Northwest with abundant open space relatively close, but even when I’m doing a street shoot, I just feel Zen when I’ve got a camera in my hand. I will say though, when I’m on a street shoot, I still tend to have my head on a swivel, the byproduct of growing up in Southern California I guess.

    Even at rush hour, a small detour to watch the sun go down just helps put me in a better state.

    1. Thanks Rob. What do you mean by “I still tend to have my head on a swivel, the byproduct of growing up in Southern California”?

      I really like those sunset shots, how the light hasn’t completely disappeared so you get those lovely tones in the sky as well as the light trails from traffic…

      1. Sorry for the vernacular Dan. I come from a military family (five US Marines), so “keep your head on a swivel” is a phrase best translated as “be aware of your surroundings”. I grew up and went to University in the Los Angeles area where some spots aren’t the safest. I prefer to do my city street shoots at night and not to put too fine a point on it, not all of the homeless folks in Seattle are friendly. Mental illness and drug abuse are very common among our homeless and assaults on passersby while not frequent, do still happen.

        Sadly, the bridge where I took those photos is adjacent to a park where the homeless prefer to camp out and do drugs. There are usually quite a few photographers on the bridge at the golden and blue hours, so its fairly safe. My size also helps make me less of a target (I’m 185 cm, 111 kg) but nevertheless, I don’t assume I’m safe because of that.

        Interestingly, I find that the mix of heightened awareness and relaxation is a pleasant state to be in.

        I love my wilderness shoots where I’m very relaxed and loose, but even then I’m often in areas where black bears and cougars are not uncommon. Head on a swivel indeed…

        Thanks for the compliments on the photos, and apologies for my Instagram links dumping in your comments section. I wasn’t aware that WordPress allowed that.

      2. Ah I thought it might mean something like that.

        I think just having a camera with you can heighten your awareness, whereas walking without one you can end up walking without noticing anything around you. Which is sometimes what you need, just thinking time, but other times the state of greater awareness is the main aim.

        Feel free to share links of photos, I always happy for you to do that.

  4. Hope your inflammation has subsided a little bit by the time of this reading, Dan. A walk in the woods is excellent medicine, I think. And for me personally, the camera is an instrument for seeing the possibilities and details in things. having it along tends to be a mindset shifter. i let things come to me.

    1. On the mend yes thanks J. Yes, very eloquently put – “the camera is an instrument for seeing the possibilities and details in things. having it along tends to be a mindset shifter”. Just having one with you, even if you don’t use it, seems to widen one’s awareness and perception of beautiful things, I find.

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