Has it been awhile since you picked up your camera? Losing your photography mojo is a disheartening and confusing time for many photographers. Here’s why it happens and what to do to reignite it.
When you first picked up a camera there’s a good chance you snapped away without care because everything was so fascinating and you enjoyed the process of reducing the world down to one interesting rectangle. This is such a beautiful stage of photography because we’re living in the moment and not putting expectations on ourselves or worrying about what anyone else is doing. But how quickly we forget the magic of these early experiences that made us fall in love with photography in the first place.
Cameras make it so easy for us to start taking photos right away so many photographers suffer from the Dunning Kruger effect because the more you learn about photography, the more you realise how much there is to master. It’s not just about capturing moments in an attractive way, it’s a technical craft that requires mastery of expensive equipment and management of the elements. This transforms our hobby from a slow paced one of capturing mindful moments into a competitive obsession with making our rectangles the best they can be. And not everyone signed up for that.
Which brings us to the reasons why photographers lose their mojo:
1. It went from fun to confusing
When you realised that the key to better photography is to master manual mode, photography went from being creative and fun to being technical and confusing. In our busy world it’s hard to make time for things that don’t feel like fun and many beginner photographers get overwhelmed by the technical side and pick up their camera less and less. Then they start associating their camera with feelings of failure so the guilt compounds and their camera gathers dust. Yet all it takes to learn manual is a few committed days of practicing, making mistakes and learning from the experience. Photography is still magical. In fact it’s even more magical once you master your gear. You just need to deal with a little discomfort to get there. Every successful photographer struggled through this stage so don’t let it defeat you.
2. You’re not making fast enough progress.
Photographers often fall into the trap of photographing similar things in similar ways hoping they’ll eventually improve. But to master photography you need to practice very specific things that progressively improve your skills step by step. But no one tells photographers this which is why they get stuck in an Internet pit of overwhelm trying different things haphazardly and hoping something sticks. This is a really confusing and time consuming way to learn photography and when it feels like you’re getting nowhere fast you’re going to start to let other things in your life take priority.
3. Your photos have become more problematic than useful.
When you’re learning photography it’s natural to take a whole bunch of average photos as you refine your skills and ability to see. Meanwhile all those photos take up hard drive space. You’re reluctant to delete them, but they’re also not yet good enough to be useful. And by useful I mean they’re not sellable, and aren’t something you’d add to your portfolio. So when your photos become more of a burden than they are useful – you’ll start to wonder what the point of it all is. This is the reason that nearly killed photography for me until I realised I needed to get more specific about what I shot and find ways to make my photography useful.
4. You’ve stopped having fun.
At first everything you photograph feels new and shiny but even interesting things when photographed enough eventually become mundane so you begin to seek out more and more exciting subjects to keep your passion alive but that’s not always possible. Look at when COVID hit? Suddenly all the photographers got stuck at home suffering a second pandemic of the death of photography mojos. But there’s so much potential at home once you learn how to see it. Often this requires a shift in mindset. Instead of looking to the world to provide interesting subjects, you need to create the interesting subjects yourself by constructing scenes and shifting from taking photos to making photos. This is when learning and trying new creative techniques really comes in handy, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with your camera.
5. You’ve started comparing yourself to others and find yourself lacking.
Now this all comes down to your personal interpretations. You might have tried a technique one time and failed and then compared yourself to someone who tried 20 times and succeeded. That’s not a fair comparison and you cannot know how much time or effort someone has put into creating their perfect shot. And if you feel like it’s all been done before, we all have access to different environments, ideas, and skills so your unique perspective is still extremely valuable. Comparison isn’t helpful unless it inspires you to be better. If someone else’s success is getting you down this might have nothing to do with their work and everything to do with how confident they are sharing and talking about their work. Your ego is designed to keep you safe but more often than not it just keeps us trapped.
6. You’ve stopped taking photos for yourself and started creating for others.
We all start out taking photos for the thrill of the experience but over time our attention often shifts to creating for others which is when people's expectations start to weigh us down. I have always photographed for myself first and foremost because I love the experience of creation. And this is the key to staying motivated with photography: to enjoy the journey rather than obsess over the outcome. Too often we live life by thinking 'I'll be happy when such and such happens' that we forget to be happy in each moment of every day. Never forget that there's joy in every camera click and everything that happens after that is just a bonus.
7. You’ve gone into a guilt spiral for not picking up your camera enough.
But here’s the thing about being a creator. There is no requirement to be creating all the time. Musicians write and record albums, tour, take a break and then start again. Artists create a body of work, exhibit it, take a break and then start again. We need to give ourselves time and grace to put down our cameras, recharge and fill ourselves up with new experiences and inspiration so that we can return to photography feeling reinvigorated instead of run down. We can’t keep investing energy into something and not expect to eventually run out if we aren’t taking the time to recharge our batteries. I often create a flurry of work and then take several years off in between to focus on other aspects of photography. You can still be a photographer without picking up your camera.
We each come to photography for different reasons so it’s impossible to put together a definitive list of all the factors that contribute to missing mojos. Sometimes other things in life just needed to take priority, sometimes a change in personal circumstances affects your relationship with photography, sometimes we need to conserve our energy just to get through each day. And just know that the act of creation is an excellent form of therapy. But if you love photography enough you will come back to it when the time is right.
And if that time is now, here’s a few suggestions to get your mojo back:
- Give yourself a photography goal that’s bigger than your frustrations or fears so you’ll keep picking up your camera even when things feel hard.
- Work on practicing the specific techniques that help you progress fast. Identify where you need to improve next, research what you need to learn and focus all your attention on practicing this skill until you are confident to move onto the next one.
- Get more specific about the things you love to shoot so your hard drive isn’t filling up with photos you’ll never use or look at again. And this probably means you will shoot less but that’s perfectly okay because it’s quality over quantity. And if you feel ready give your photography a use such as committing to share a few images from every shoot on social media. Even the failed ones make a good story. If your work has an audience, you’ll work that little bit harder to take better photos.
- Photograph things that are fun and challenging by making rather than taking so you stop relying on the world to give you inspiration and start leaning on your own creativity which you can do by learning a few different creative techniques that you can practice at home.
- Remind yourself that comparison is unhealthy without context. Each of our journeys are different and everyone’s work has value, including yours. And learn to share your work without feeling inadequate or fearing judgement. The truth is people are always going to judge us for something. That’s just a fact of life. It’s far more beneficial for you to be judged for stepping out and shining your light rather than for hiding away and fearing rejection.
- Remember that you do photography because you enjoy the experience. If you fall in love with the journey, and not the attention and acclaim, you’ll achieve everything you want as a side effect.
- Understand the importance of taking time to recharge without subjecting yourself to judgement, guilt or shame. But if you really want to shift your mojo back into action, why not find a supportive community or an accountability buddy to fill you with motivation?
If your photography mojo needs a kick start, I encourage you to sign up to Creative Photo Folk’s newsletter to receive a free ‘find your mojo’ guide with 5 creative projects that give you something to focus on, are fun to create, teach you new skills, and help you create impactful and interesting photos you’ll be proud to share.