This competition points photography's compassionate lens at mental health

Smoke rising on a black background
(Image credit: Out From The Mist)

There are plenty of photography competitions – some provide much-needed exposure for photographers and cash rewards, while others raise awareness on a specific topic like climate change. However, there aren’t many that touch upon the issue of mental health, even though it’s such an important issue today.

Out From The Mist – an international photo and video competition organized by the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia – aims to change that by putting the focus on mental health and help “break down the stigma associated with it”, according to the competition’s prospectus.

The competition – now in its third year – is currently accepting entries for its 2021 edition, a great way for photographers and video makers to share their experience with mental illness, whether it be a direct impact or an indirect one through friends or family.

Photo of a young girl staring at her computer with images of friends swirling around her

Out From The Mist's Colin Biggers & Paisley Prize for 2020 (Image credit: Relentless by Kris Anderson)

Entries can be both stills or short videos of no more than a minute long, and should depict the entrant’s experience of having lived with some form of mental illness. Submissions can represent specific disorders, the recovery process or the indirect relationship of watching a loved one suffer. 

Entries can also be about the future when mental wellbeing becomes a significant part of society and how it would perhaps be addressed then – there really aren’t any set categories.

Submissions for Out From The Mist close on September 24, 2021, with the results announced on October 10 to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week. A live exhibition will also be held, then taken on road across major cities in Australia.

You can find out more about Out From The Mist, how to enter and its prizes on its website.

A composite image of a woman in costume in three different poses

(Image credit: Hear No Evil by Livonne Larkins)

Phototherapy can help

Out From The Mist is a personal project. Founder and creative director Micheal Wood has lived with mental illness for years. While he’s learnt to manage it and live with it, others aren’t so lucky. According to the statistics provided by the organizers of Out From The Mist, one in 10 people worldwide are affected directly or indirectly by mental illnesses. 

Researchers have, for years, studied how phototherapy can help those suffering – according to a 2018 study out of UK’s Lancaster University, taking at least one photo a day and sharing it online can help improve your mental wellbeing. Even a selfie can be a powerful release, according to a paper published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. Photography has even saved lives – just ask Bryce Evans, who gave a TedTalk on the subject.

While phototherapy can be a conscious endeavor – perhaps recommended by a health professional – taking pictures just because you want to or love to works its magic behind the scenes.

Two friends sitting on a wooden jetty on the edge of a lake

(Image credit: Sharmishta Sarkar / TechRadar)

A personal journey

Over a decade ago, life took a dramatic turn and I hit rock bottom. There were too many uncertainties and I was terrified. And, as expected, the stress and anxiety of that time took its toll not just mentally, but manifested physically as well.

While plenty of doctors worked to bring the physical effects of depression under control, I didn’t seek help for my mental wellbeing, or even acknowledge I had a problem. One day I just picked up my camera – an old Panasonic point-and-shoot with an 18x zoom that is no longer manufactured – and started taking pictures of anything and everything around me, from autumn leaves to curios in my home. I just steered clear of capturing people as that made me uncomfortable.

What I realised after a few months of indulging myself with a camera was that I felt happy and free when I was taking pictures. And I haven’t stopped. 

A black-and-white photo of a woman in a flowing gown, head hanging

(Image credit: Sharmishta Sarkar / TechRadar)

I don’t consider myself a professional photographer – I understand how a camera works and what people are looking for when they want to buy photography gear. Years of experimentation and encouragement from friends, family and colleagues has helped me hone my skills, and now I have the privilege of reviewing cameras and lenses for a living, which is the best excuse I can get to indulge my photography.

Photography has also made me a better person, teaching me patience and empathy. It’s also helped me own up to the fact that I have a mental health issue, and no longer feel the need to hide in the shadows. And that makes me one of the lucky few.

Being able to share what we're going through helps, and telling that story through photography or film can be a wonderful creative outlet. And that's where platforms like Out From The Mist can help – not only by helping spread the word about mental health, but by also providing a space for photographers and content creators to share their stories.

Sharmishta Sarkar
Managing Editor (APAC)

Sharmishta is TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor and loves all things photography, something she discovered while chasing monkeys in the wilds of India (she studied to be a primatologist but has since left monkey business behind). While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, she's also an avid reader and has become a passionate proponent of ereaders, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about the convenience of these underrated devices. When she's not testing camera kits or the latest in e-paper tablets, she's discovering the joys and foibles of smart home gizmos. She's also the Australian Managing Editor of Digital Camera World and, if that wasn't enough, she contributes to T3 and Tom's Guide, while also working on two of Future's photography print magazines Down Under.