What is therapeutic photography?

Therapeutic photography—maybe that sounds like a strange or unfamiliar term. Over time I’ve come to realize that I believe this is an accurate description of the type of photography I personally practice. What is therapeutic photography? Let’s take a quick look in the dictionary.

Egg shells – Nikon FE, Nikon 35mm f/2, Portra 400

Defining Therapeutic

Here is one of the basic meanings of the word therapeutic: Therapeutic-having a beneficial effect on the body or mind (merriam-webster.com). Something that is therapeutic has benefits for both our body and mind. So let’s bring it together.

Self portrait – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Bringing Them Together

When we join photography with therapeutic benefits we have an amazing tool for so many aspects of well-being, health, wellness and growth. This can apply to physical, mental, spiritual, emotional health—and maybe even more areas that I have not yet thought of.

Kids were here – iPhone 11

What Does It Look Like?

Personally, I believe this can look many different ways to different individuals. For me, engaging in therapeutic photography helps me to be aware of my surroundings, noticing and appreciating what is around me. It’s a way to stay in the present moment. Practically this means using my DSLR, one of my 35mm film SLR’s or sometimes my phone to capture natural moments that I observe around me or my self and what I feel and notice within my mind, body and/or soul. I also utilize my computer and Lightroom for photo editing as well as learning the process and developing my own 35mm color film at home. These therapeutic practices can lead to the benefits of connections to myself, other people, nature, God, ideas, feelings, my surroundings and more. It can get me observing, moving and doing a host of things that benefit my physical and mental health.

For other people therapeutic photography could look completely different. I think that is the beautiful and amazing thing—therapeutic photography is completely adaptable to each of us and our specific needs. What is therapeutic for me may have unpleasant effects for you so it’s good to know what is helpful and beneficial for each of us and to adjust a potential therapeutic photography practice accordingly to fit our individual needs.

This topic really excites and energizes me. Honestly, therapeutic photography has been so uplifting and life-giving for me and is a very special concept and practice for me. It has literally helped to save my life and gives me a creative outlet to express myself when I don’t have words to share.

I am considering writing more about therapeutic photography in the future. Is there anything related this topic that you would like to know or discuss? Do you practice therapeutic photography? If so, I’d love to hear about your process if that’s something you are open to sharing. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me here.

Self portrait, walking – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4


Broken – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, January 3, 2021

Trying to survive through the battle of the freezing cold, harmful, incredibly damaging storm. I am broken and somehow still holding on. God sustains me though I feel mostly dead. Trying to do my part, working, and waiting to thaw. He is faithful.

This photo was taken on a cold afternoon when I was struggling with high levels of anxiety. This is one of the things I saw that captured my attention, drew me in. I felt I could relate to the story of this scene in a very personal way. I noticed that being outside for at least an hour on that frigid afternoon helped to reset and neutralize how I was feeling. It didn’t erase the struggle but did help it feel more manageable.

Fallen Leaves on Film – Fuji Superia 400, Developed at Home

These photos were taken approximately November of 2020. It was a cold day and I went to a nearby wooded park to try to capture some of the beautiful autumn leaves. I was struggling a lot and experiencing intense anxiety and depression. I made an effort to try to focus on the process of seeing and taking in my surroundings while in the wooded area at the park, appropriately setting shutter speed and aperture, focusing my camera, winding and advancing the film frame by frame. I also brought my digital camera and alternated between using the two cameras. Part way through taking pictures my Nikon FE jammed up, I was not able to advance the film and when I looked through the viewfinder it was black and I couldn’t see through it which caused me some distress at the time. I am thankful this roll was not a complete loss due to my camera malfunctioning.

This was one of the rolls of film that I developed during my second time developing my own film at home. I was afraid that I may have lost all the images since my camera malfunctioned. It was a stressful and exciting process to try developing my film for the second time. I am thankful I persevered and did not give up. It was challenging and I definitely had to push myself as I felt very overwhelmed. Since this was the second time developing film at home it was a little less foreign feeling.

I see a lot of parallels to my own life with being fearful, anxious and scared of the unknown or trying new things. When I try to be kind to myself, put in the hard work and try to me mindful and learn in the process I often find that I manage to survive and even learn, grow and appreciate the end result.

It was amazing to take my reels of film out of the developing tank and see that there were images on the negatives. There don’t seem to be words to describe such a thrilling and exciting moment for me.

These images were taken with my Nikon FE and Nikon 35mm f/2 lens and developed at home using Unicolor chemistry. I scanned the negatives with my DSLR setup in my dark basement, imported the images of the negatives into Lightroom and used Negative Lab Pro to convert the negatives to positives. So many steps and such a fulfilling process with the reward of seeing the images in the end.

The first image is what I first saw when I opened my car door just before stepping onto the ground the day I went to the wooded park. It was a refreshing sight to see the raindrops on the fallen, brown leaf that was resting on top of the pile of leaves that coated the ground as I felt the chill of the cold, fall air and savored the moment.

Nikon FE, Nikon 35mm f/2, Fuji Superia x-tra 400, self-developed with Unicolor chemistry, fall 2020

The second image was a beautiful sight to me. It is captured just as I found it. I was struck by the small branch of green leaves with raindrops collected on top that stood out in contrast to the pile of dead, brown leaves that were lying in a thick layer over the ground. This natural sighting reminds me of choosing life and nourishment in the midst of death, decay, hardship, pain, and struggle.

Nikon FE, Nikon 35mm f/2, Fuji Superia x-tra 400, self-developed with Unicolor chemistry, fall 2020

How do these images speak to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Winter Sunset From The Passenger Seat

For the past 10 months we haven’t left home very often and I rarely take my camera when we do. This time I chose to bring my camera and was able to capture some images from my view in the passenger seat on the way home as the sun was setting.

Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, January 18, 2021
Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, January 18, 2021
Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, January 18, 2021
Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, January 18, 2021

Documenting the Everyday – Fuji Superia 400, First Roll Developed at Home

For my first attempt at developing my 35mm color film at home I shot a roll of “unimportant” images around the house. I didn’t have a lot of faith in my ability to develop film-this was my first try-so I wanted to try to minimize the disappointment of losing some really important images. I seem to form an attachment to all my photos but at least these were not a part of some big, important project.

These images were taken with my Nikon F100 and developed at home using Unicolor chemistry. I scanned the negatives with my DSLR setup in my dark basement, imported the images of the negatives into Lightroom and converted the negatives to positives manually. Once I got the main conversion to positive edits made I created a preset and applied that to each photo then worked on any more detailed editing that was required after the conversion to positive. So many steps and such a fulfilling process with the reward of seeing the image in the end.

I have to be honest: developing my film at home for the first time all on my own was a very scary, overwhelming, anxiety inducing process for me. And I really wanted to see the images I captured on my roll of film. I was scared I would mess something up and my roll of film would be ruined so I felt a lot of pressure. This whole process was so unknown and unfamiliar to me. It felt like it took so much time and energy for me just to get the chemicals mixed. Later I managed to start the process of developing my first roll of film. Even thought I had watched several YouTube videos showing the film developing steps I still had no idea what I was doing. Pushing myself through the process was difficult. I tried to do the best job possible while not really knowing what I was doing. I figured the best way to learn was to do this, to give it a try. If I never attempted to develop my own film because I was so fearful I would mess something up I would never be able to learn how to develop my film. So I went through the fear and anxiety, trying to keep in mind that this was the best way to learn-by doing. If I messed up the film it would not be the end of the world, it would be ok, and I could always try again another time. I just wanted to do a great job the first time and needed to remember that I spent many years learning and practicing digital photography to be able to have the abilities I have now with digital photography and this was the same idea-it will take practice over time to become familiar and have good results.

At the end of the process when I opened the developing tank and glanced at the negatives once I pulled the roll from the reel it was so exciting, healing and refreshing to see that there were images on the negatives! I was so thankful that I conquered my fear and managed to make it through this new, unfamiliar, fearful process. The hard work and perseverance were worth it. And it helped me to gain a tiny bit of confidence that maybe I could learn to develop my own film as well as continue to grow as a person by working through the many struggles I face. It was a very therapeutic and healing process for me.

Here are several of the images from this roll of Fuji Superia x-tra 400 that I developed October 2020. I know they’re not the best of images and they’re still very meaningful to me.

Have you had a similar experience-whether photography oriented or not-where you persevered and saw growth and victory? I’d love to hear about it. You can leave a comment or send me a message here.

A Winter drive – shot on iPhone

I’ve heard it said that the best camera is the one you have with you. While I truly do prefer to use one of my cameras I don’t always have my DSLR or 35mm film cameras with me. On this day we had been to an appointment and on the way home I felt inspired to try to capture some of the winter scenery with a beautiful coating of white frost on everything. All my cameras were at home so I used my phone. I shot these through the car window as my husband drove down the highway. I used the Lightroom mobile app to capture and edit these photos. I feel much more comfortable with one of my cameras than I do taking pictures with my phone. It surprised me that I was able to get as many “keepers” as I did. It’s a good reminder to use what I have with me and try to enjoy the process no matter what type of equipment I have with me to use.

shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021
shot on iPhone 11, January 4, 2021

Country roadside beauty on film – Fuji Superia 400

These images were taken over the summer. One evening I was outside testing out my Nikon F100 with my first roll of film and took these photos along the road just across from my home.

Nikon F100, Sigma 35mm f/1.4
Fuji Superia X-tra 400
Taken June 2020
Developed and scanned by The Darkroom Lab

Processing Spiritual Abuse Through Therapeutic Photography

I took these images after listening to The Faith and Mental Wellness Podcast episode 42–an interview with Dr. Diane Langberg about spiritual abuse. This podcast was incredibly encouraging and insightful for me. It gave me a lot to think about, consider and process. Personally I felt encouraged, understood and uplifted by Dr. Langberg’s voice, words and compassionate message. And, for me, it brought up some challenging, heartbreaking, painful and truthfully empowering thoughts and experiences. I was having difficulty coping with some of the thoughts, memories, and feelings and somehow I found myself processing this through creating images with my digital and film cameras. The film photo is part of my Project 365 on film and that roll of film is still in my camera at the moment. I will share the digital images below. This process of creating images in relation to the experience of spiritual abuse in the context of the Christian church was very grounding and helped some of the unpleasant feelings move through me in that moment as I thought, focused, selected aperture and shutter speed, planned what I wanted to communicate, and moved with my camera to create specific effects. It also gave me a small voice to hopefully help share awareness and education about the painful experience of spiritual abuse.

Abuse takes away our voice. This is one attempt to reclaim my own voice and perhaps encourage fellow survivors to reclaim their voice.

For these images I used the Bible I’ve carried to church for approximately the past 15 years. Through spiritual abuse things become blurry, out of focus, unclear. The words of Jesus (the red letters in my Bible) get twisted, distorted, and blurred. It’s like I can’t see straight—telling myself, “I must be the problem, the crazy one…not the church, it’s a church so it can’t be bad or wrong.” I question myself, question my own sanity.

I am not really able to adequately express this experience in words. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I created the photos. For me it’s a painful, heartbreaking experience that I cannot fully explain with my words.

If this has been your experience, if you can relate to this, my heart goes out to you.

I will leave you a few quotes from The Faith and Mental Wellness Podcast, Episode 42: Signs of Spiritual Abuse and Beginning Recovery

“Abuse destroys what God intended us to be.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“Abuse typically shuts up voice—silences our voice and destroys safety of relationship.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“If someone hurts you and you say ‘ouch’ in some way and they don’t listen—that’s abuse.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“We fail our shepherds when we do not speak the truth—we enter into it [abuse] with them.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“You can’t be abused in any way and NOT be confused about God—this is a normal reaction.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“You are meant to have your own thoughts—don’t let that [abuse] stop you from having your own thoughts—it will take time, and that’s ok—God is patient.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“You need to be rooted in Christ—not in any institution.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“Getting out of the abusive environment and re-learning helps you grow in deeper ways than ever before.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

“Calling out abuse in the church is not anti-church—it’s bringing healing to the church.”
-Dr. Diane Langberg

Photos taken January 12, 2021
Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4

In the dirt

Butterfly in the dirt – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, September 21, 2020

Broken, wounded, lifeless, down in the dirt— where few people seem to care to sit with those who are broken-hearted and hurting. I lie here trying to survive, wondering if I will ever be revived. I know in Him I have hope yet it seems impossible. I try to keep breathing and trusting in God to carry me through.

This photo was taken on a warm evening when I was struggling intensely. All I could think to do was go outside and walk up and down our driveway for a couple hours. I was terrified what might happen or what I might do if I didn’t make an effort to just keep walking. I grabbed my camera and tried to notice whatever caught my eye and take a few pictures. This tiny butterfly laying in the gravel on our driveway was one thing that I noticed and decided to capture that evening.

Why I Love Photography

Frost on the window, shaped like a heart – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Why I Love Photography

Over the years I have come to realize several reasons I love and benefit from photography. I know each of us are unique and have specific ways photography can be helpful, enjoyable or rewarding for us as an individual. As I thought about it I was able to list 6 of the main reasons why I love photography with a brief, personal explanation. In the future I may think of more to add to this list. Perhaps in the future I will go into more detail with some of these specific areas. Feel free to let me know if there are any of these specific topics you would like to hear more about. Here are the 6 items I’ve come up with:

Self portraits taken with Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 viewed on LGG6 phone and captured with Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Wordless Expression When I Cannot Speak

For me there are often times when I’m unable to speak or put what I’m experiencing or feeling into words. Through photography I can capture moments, my surroundings, objects, nature or even myself in a way that helps me express my emotions and thoughts. Once I’m able to do this I sometimes notice at least a tiny bit of relief in unpleasant feelings. Sometimes this can help in trying to share with others something that I’m not able to successfully put into words—something that’s experienced or felt rather than explained with words. I’ve also had other people tell me they can relate to my photos, they understand what I’m saying through my images.

Light shining through a leaf fallen in the dirt – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Learning to See

Through practicing photography and working to grow in my photography skills it has been an incredible teacher of how to see. I’ve learned to watch light, see how it acts, and note its characteristics. Photography has helped me to see my surroundings in a whole new way. Things I once thought ordinary or mundane can now be beautiful and extraordinary. It’s been an amazing transformation. Through carefully viewing and capturing my surroundings I’ve  grown to appreciate and be aware of the beauty of God’s blessings that surround me—even in the midst of great darkness, depression and despair. It helps me to endure and try my best to remain thankful.

A Coping Tool

Since I’ve become well acquainted with the digital photography process through repetition over several years it has become an effective coping tool for me that is very familiar. While I do not always have the capacity to engage in photography it can be a very helpful way for me to cope when I’m able to engage in some part of the process. It may be picking up my camera, framing a shot and clicking the shutter. Another time it may be sitting at my desk and editing some photos I’ve imported into Lightroom. More recently I’ve been working on learning more about film photography. The process of loading a new roll of film into a camera can be therapeutic and helpful for me in coping. Framing a film shot, focusing, pressing the shutter, hearing a vintage camera shutter snap, and then manually advancing the film can be very intriguing and capture my attention enough to bring me into the present moment. I’ve also been learning about the process of developing my own color 35mm film at home. While that process has been very overwhelming and unfamiliar for me at times it also helps to keep me grounded and in the moment which are very helpful and valuable qualities for me.

Hint of a rainbow – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4

A Form of Prayer and Meditation

Recently I have realized it seems that photography can be a form of prayer and meditation for me. I can “sing” my Creator’s praise through capturing creation around me. This also helps me to focus on the beauty of creation which points me to the God who made it.

My husband and me at the hospital for appointments with specialists – iPhone 11

Reminder of Experiences and Blessings

Often I struggle with losing my memories. Through photography I’ve been able to capture moments, feelings and blessings that would otherwise be forgotten. Looking at the images I’ve captured takes me back to the original moment and reminds me of the circumstances, emotions, thoughts and events that happened in that moment. Without my interest in photography I would have lost and forgotten a lot of blessings and moments in my life.

kids were here – Nikon F100, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, Fuji Superia xtra 400

Serves As a Visual Journal

There was a time when I didn’t have the strength or mental energy to write down my thoughts, feelings and experiences in a journal. So I have relied on the photos I was able to capture as a visual journal. Over time I can see growth and change within myself and my family physically. I’ve loved capturing my children from infancy through their current stages as well as “kidless” photos like my ongoing series of Kids Were Here photos. I can also see growth and change in my knowledge, understanding and style of photography. There is also a progression of my internal growth and I’ve learned to start to see myself as a person having worth and value, the reality of hardship and struggle which can produce maturity, learning and strength of character. I also have noticed a growth of my practical learning about light and how it works as well as a personal, internal struggle with darkness and light.

self portrait while struggling – Nikon D750, Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Photography has been a tremendous help and blessing in my life which has been filled with severe mental health struggles, difficulties and challenges. My interest and drive as a self-taught photographer combined with using my photography skills as a form of self-expression has helped to save my life. I’m thankful to have the medium of photography in my life.

What about you?

Do you enjoy engaging in a photography practice in a general or specific way? Do you enjoy digital, film or (like me) a mix of both? What do you love, appreciate, and enjoy about your photography? I’d love to hear what types of photography you love! Please feel free to share with me in the comments!