Photography In Pursuit of One’s Well-Being

Back then, photography used to be a professional undertaking. Photographers would use specific and intricate tools and techniques to capture an essence they find in a shot. However, as smartphones begin incorporating these tools and techniques easily, everyone now has the chance to become a photographer. People are even starting to integrate photography into their daily lives, as encouraged by social media applications. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of everyday photography to our psychology and well-being. In light of this benefit, we will also discuss some adverse effects of everyday photography, such as narcissism. 


The Rise of Smartphone Photography

Fueled by extensive developments in smartphone technology and image-enhancing software, the small and portable handheld devices in our pockets can now produce photos good enough for sharing with friends. In addition to this convenience, one can take photographs using a smartphone without prior knowledge of how to take an awe-inspiring picture. All of these features are accessible through a simple click of a button. 

This simplicity, along with the means to share and communicate with others through social media, drove the interests of many people to smartphone photography. Although scientists have studied social media and its adverse effects, there are still a number of ways that researchers find it to be useful, especially when it comes to photography.

Before heading into the positive effects of photography that researchers have studied, let us first get through something that may worry us throughout this reading. This worry can be from the negative effects of heading into the realm of self-photography, or simply the “selfie”.


Selfie: A Downside to Smartphone Photography?

If you try to search through academic studies about selfies, you will notice that many of them try to find some relationship between selfies, self-esteem, and narcissism. The relationship between self-esteem and narcissism has long been studied extensively. On the other hand, social media introduces a new means for self-presentation and feedback, which are factors that self-esteem and narcissism largely depend on. 

In a 2014 study, researchers from the Ohio State University used an online survey of men aged 18-40 years old to predict online traits for narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. They found that all three correlated with time spent on social networking sites (SNS). Furthermore, out of the three, narcissism had the highest correlation with time spent on SNS, selfies posted, and photo editing frequency. 

On the contrary, in a 2017 research with more female participants, psychologists from the University of Southern Mississippi examined 128 university students (19 males; 109 females) aged 18 to 43 years old. This study used empirical observations rather than predictions and this made it more reliable. 

The study came up with a result stating that as we see posting selfies becoming more common among the populous, the researchers concluded that narcissism is generally not correlated with it. Although specifically, there are some dimensions of narcissism correlated with posting selfies. This shows that posting selfies has become just another communication method among students. 

From the two studies, we can see that inherently, selfies are not exactly a downside to smartphone photography. However, one must always be wary of the excessive use of it. Everyday expression of one’s self through selfies may be beneficial, but dependence on it is not. 


Positivity Through Photography

Moving on from the negative side, let us proceed to how it can improve our well-being. Photography can influence one’s well-being in different ways, including improving mood, and life satisfaction. Researchers seek to achieve these improvements through various methods such as the incorporation of positive psychological interventions or presenting goals in taking photos. 

A sound and tested traditional positive psychological intervention comes in the form of journals or writing to express your ideas towards the end of the day. With this in mind, researchers from the University of Kent proposed a smartphone application that incorporates this intervention and mobile photography. 

Essentially, the application combines photo-taking, annotating, making descriptions, and reflections for the event that the photo captures. The researchers surveyed 74 participants who used the application, and they found that many of the features of the application correlated with a boost in the participant’s mood and positive affect. These features include the variety of the picture category ( e.g. positivity, reminiscence, act of kindness), photo annotations and descriptions, and revisiting photos.

Another option to improve your well-being through photography without any software is setting a positive goal or a task that you want to accomplish when taking a photo. Specifically, researchers conducted a 4-week study on 41 participants in which their goal every day was one of the following:

  1. To take a selfie while smiling
  2. To take a photo that would make yourself happy
  3. To take a photo that would make another person happy

This research found that those who would take a selfie every day noticed changes in their smiles over time. The people who took photos that would make them happy became reflective, mindful, and appreciative of things. Finally, those who took a photo to make others happy developed strong ties with their immediate family.



Photography in Everyday Life

From the study mentioned above, we can see that photography may have a role to play in our everyday life. In a qualitative arts-based research on minor gestures, slow writing, and everyday photography, the author writes that photographs of your surroundings allow one to discover and communicate ideas. She notes that through everyday photography, she becomes more perceptive of “minor gestures” that can be found in small spaces such as graffiti.

In a way, everyday photography allows us to slow down, observe, and reflect on one’s environment. Together with the conclusions of the goal-oriented research, these studies teach us that positivity can still be present in the small things that photographs highlight for us. Our ever-changing smiles, the little things that make us happy, and the bonds with our families are important things that we seem to forget in a rapidly-changing environment. Everyday photography helps us unwind and remember these important things.