Dalat, Vietnam 2016 / Photo by Cindy

How to Use Photography as Self-Therapy

Dalat, Vietnam 2016 / Photo by Cindy
Dalat, Vietnam 2016 / Photo by Cindy

Have you ever felt stressed, shitty, and overwhelmed with life — and went out with a walk with your camera, and instantly felt much better?

What is photography to me?

For me, photography is all about self-therapy. I’ve used the camera as a tool to overcome my stress, my social anxiety, and as a way of creative self-expression.

Photography isn’t about making pretty photos

I think as photographers, we often make the mistake of thinking that photography is about making good photos.

No. I think photography is healing your soul. About finding more appreciation in life in the beauty around you. About finding beauty in the ordinary.

Photography is about becoming a more confident person. To have the confidence to make art, share it, and to be judged for it. Not only that, but street photography has helped me build personal courage, to interact with strangers, and also how to deal with negative interactions.

Photography has given me a creative outlet as well. Before photography, I had no way to express myself creatively. I (like many others out there) was born an artist, but had no skills to draw. When I discovered photography, it opened up my world to seeing the world in a unique way, and feeling more connected with the world.

How to heal ourselves with photography

Tokyo, 2016

One of the things I’ve learned from Buddhism is this: the focus of our lives should be to reduce our suffering (rather than “adding” to our pleasures). Therefore, I feel the first step in photography should be relieving the stress, anxiety, and frustration in life.

Here are some ideas to apply self-therapy to your life, with photography as the medicine:

1. Go on a walk

For me, there is nothing better for my soul than just going for a nice walk. I like to go out on a walk, and just take my camera along. When I go on a walk, it forces me to get outside of my apartment, where I am alone and often depressed. When I go outside for a walk, I instantly feel my spirit lifted. I see other people, breathe the fresh air, and also get some walking in.

There is a lot of theories now that walking is what it means to be human. Apparently the only organisms that have brains are the ones that need to move. So my theory is that a lot of our mental illnesses, depression, and problems come from the fact that we no longer move. We’re stuck in our offices, and our homes.

When you go out for a walk with your camera, put no pressure on yourself. Make the walking your first priority, and photography your second priority. Just take photos of whatever you find along the way you find interesting.

2. Find beauty in the mundane

I love that photography gives us the opportunity to find beauty in the mundane or everyday.

For example, you can find beauty in the smallest little thing. You can find beauty in a flower growing out of a concrete crack. You can find beauty in telephone poles. You can find beauty in the smile of your child, your partner, or your friend. You can photograph interesting things in your home, on the streets, near or at work, or in nature.

I find that photography forces me to look at the small details. You don’t even need to share these photos. Shoot for the sake of shooting, and the act and process of making photos, will help you find more beauty in the small things around you — that you might easily overlook.

As a tip, walk slowly, and look at the ground. There is a lot that we miss by not looking down, and also by not looking up. You can use the simplest camera possible — generally this is a smartphone. Not only that, but with a smartphone, you can focus very closely — allowing you to focus on details.

3. Talk to strangers

As humans, we are social creatures. A lot of us suffer from social anxiety — interacting with strangers we don’t know.

Street photography, and especially shooting “street portraits” has helped me become more confident when interacting with strangers. I can also now make small talk with strangers, which is always a good way to break the ice, and feel connected with someone you might not know.

One of the assignments I like to give students is this: approach a bunch of strangers and ask for permission to “make” their portrait. Keep asking until you get 5 people to say “yes” and 5 to say “no.” This is a good remedy for overcoming any social anxiety.


I’m not a doctor, a physician, and certainly not a psychologist or therapist. However I am an individual who has suffered a lot of mental and social anxiety in the past— and photography has helped me grow thicker skin, become more brave, and become more creative and self-compassionate.

Re-think about what photography means to you. Think of photography as medicine for your soul, not just making pretty photos.

And once you make personal photos for yourself, and break out of your self-contained prison of anxiety, depression, and doubt — you can truly flourish, help others, and become the best version of yourself.

Be strong,

Learn more: Stoicism >