Updated: Oct 30, 2018
by Liz Brewster and Andrew Cox
This small research study, conducted by researchers at Lancaster University in England found that taking a photo a day and posting it on a sharing site improved well being. This process is known in the photographic world as a 365 Project (one photo a day for a year).
Researchers found that taking photos allowed these people to interact with their world, to find meaning and to have a goal. It led to the photographers looking at their world differently. This was especially important if they were having a bad day.
The quotes reported in the researcher were particularly inspiring.
One photographer said: "[Taking photos] encourages me out of the house sometimes when I could just sit on my backside with a cup of tea. I'll think maybe I'll take a walk down on to the seafront and before I know it I'm two miles along the coast."
Another photographer noted:
Photography has been quite good for me over the years because I think it forces me to look at the world again. And also there’s a postural thing. If you’re only looking down, when you’re depressed and hunched over, it encourages you to look up or at least squat down and look at something different and to stop and smell the flowers ... So I find it to be a very versatile self-care technique.
The social element of posting the photos was surprisingly important. One photographer, who had retired early, found that the social interaction replaced some of the socialization he missed by not going into an office setting.
There was also an element of responsibility to post daily and many of the photographers added descriptions to go along with their photographs, which led to introspection. The photos plus the narratives resulted in a daily diary that the photographers could revisit to remember their progress.
One photographer noted, "If I'm ever feeling down or something it's nice to be able to scroll back and see good memories. You know, the photos I've taken will have a positive memory attached to it even if it's something as simple as I had a really lovely half an hour for lunch sitting outside and was feeling really relaxed."
Another photographer reflected on the photos he took during a particularly difficult period in his life:
As I reflect on this, it was probably an opportunity to perhaps add some colour to some of those days which were dark or to show that those days, many of them had good things in them. However bad I felt at the time they had something. Every day has got something ... It’s to find the good thing in the day for me.
Posting the photo on a social media site also helped some of the photographers manage loneliness and grief. It was a place where photographers could virtually meet new people who shared similar interests.
The researchers concluded that though producing a daily photograph was in itself beneficial to well-being, it was the virtual community that really kept the photographers engaged in the process.
I really connected with the experiences of these photographers in the research study. I had a similar experience with a 365 Project. I started it as a type of art therapy to cope with a difficult time in my life. Photography got me out of the house looking for beauty in the world when I otherwise saw the world only through depression. Read more about my experiences using photography to help with depression.
Though this particular research study was conducted with only a small number of photographers, I heard from many photographers after I published my experiences of coping with depression through photography. Many people have come to photography as a therapy.
Even though I no longer post a photo-a-day, photography continues to be integral to my life and bring me joy. Photography truly changed the way I saw the world.
If you want to participate in a daily photo project (no need to commit to an entire year!), post photos on Instagram using hashtags like #365 or on a dedicated web sharing site like 365Project.
Article Written by Jennifer Mishra
Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
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