Why taking a photo a day is good for your health

Keep snapping those photos - it's good for your health.
Keep snapping those photos - it's good for your health. Photo: Shutterstock

The old adage of an apple a day to keep the doctor away has been given a thoroughly modern twist thanks to new research.

A study published in Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine suggests a daily habit of taking a photo on your phone and posting it to social media could actually be good for your wellbeing.

As part of a study, researchers examined the experience of individuals participating in the photo-a-day challenge on the picture sharing platform Blipfoto.

"Photo-a-day practices have previously been examined as a form of reflection and learning," the authors write. "But the relationship with wellbeing has not been fully theorised."

Over a two month period, researchers from Lancaster University and the University of Sheffield looked at the types of photos people took, the captions they added and how they interacted with other users on the photo-a-day site.

Results demonstrated that taking a daily shot improved wellbeing in three main ways: self-care, community interaction and the potential for reminiscence.

"Photography has been quite good for me over the years because I think it forces me to look at the world again," said one study participant. "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."

For others the benefits came from connection with others.

"If it was just a photo site putting a picture up and a title I would probably have dropped out within a month or two," another participant shared. "But it was the conversations. It could be a rubbish photograph but if somebody commented on it, it made it worthwhile."

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Being able to reminisce and reflect was another positive aspect.

"If I'm ever feeling down or something it's nice to be able to scroll back and see good memories," one participant said. "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 and was feeling really relaxed."

However the authors note that the study doesn't suggest that taking a photo should be used as an intervention, or a prescription for wellbeing.

"By looking at it within the wider sphere of everyday life and via the lens of practice theory, we can think about the interlinked and complex nature of the practice," they write. In other words: it's complicated. "Its affect arises from the way people come to attach meaning to it and connect it to other practices."

Australian blogger Chantelle Ellem, also known as Fat Mum Slim, doesn't need to be convinced about the benefits of taking a photo a day. The popular online identity created her own Photo A Day challenge - and community - six years ago. More than 23 million photos later, it's still going strong.

"When I started the Photo A Day challenge back in 2012, I really didn't know what I was creating," says Ms Ellem. "To me, it was a simple challenge that would encourage me to get creative. I didn't know whether it would take off or if I would be playing along by myself. This was my prediction."

As it turns out, her prediction couldn't have been more wrong. Thousands of people began sharing photos and Ms Ellem watched the challenge going viral "right in front of my eyes".

And then the emails started coming in.

"The challenge was changing people's lives," she says. "It had changed mine, but the way in which it changed others was touching and also heartbreaking."  Ms Ellem received messages from the community telling her that the act of taking a photo a day had made them more grateful "and gave them purpose".

"It got people out of their funk and out of their houses," she says.

One reader, who shared with Ms Ellem that she was suicidal and not coping, joined the Photo A Day community after her therapist suggested it.

"Each day was a challenge, and she couldn't function," she says. "Her therapist had encouraged her to do something creative, just a small act each day to move her forward."

And so she began snapping.

"It was months after that suggestion that I got an email thanking me for changing her life," says Ms Ellem. "I didn't feel worthy because the reality was that she had changed her own life."

Six years on, Ms Ellem is still taking a photo every day. "It changes the way I see the world," she says. "Before, I may have walked past a yellow flower on the side of the path, but the photo a day challenge makes me see the small things, smile and capture them. Sometimes I don't even have to share them. It's not about the gratification from people online, sometimes it's just something for me."

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, contact BeyondBlue.org.au (call 1300 224 636) or LifeLine (call 13 11 14 or chat online after hours).