Help! What Can You Do When Your Photo Mojo Abandons You

Help! What Can You Do When Your Photo Mojo Abandons You

How many times have you been stuck in a photographic rut? If your photo mojo got up, walked out, and slammed the door in your face, then there are things you can do to get it to come back. It has happened to me.

I've recently been finding it hard to get out and take photos. I shot the above picture over a month ago. Apart from meeting the needs of my clients' commissions, I have barely touched my camera since.

Two things stop us in our creative tracks: motivation and inspiration. If we lack motivation, we will invariably not be inspired to take photos. However, we may be motivated to get out with our cameras but can't think of what we should shoot, let alone how to shoot it. That lack of inspiration can then lead to us losing our motivation. Thus, those two are intrinsically linked in a vicious circle.

I employ different approaches to enthuse me. They are not of my invention, but my interpretation of proven techniques that I have adapted to work for photography. Other people I have shared them with have found them helpful, so I hope they work for you, too.

That lack of motivation and inspiration can be the same with any creative activity. Besides photography, I write (obviously) and have faced writer's block. I also play guitar very badly and sometimes can't think of what to play. With the first two creative activities, I am contractually obliged to produce work; nobody would pay me to play guitar. So, even if I am not motivated to create images or pen articles, I must do it, not only out of contractual necessity but also because of the need to put food on my plate.

Besides shooting professionally, I still photograph purely for enjoyment. However, when it is not imperative to use my camera, it can sometimes become much harder to get going. Although I know I love being on the beach or strolling through the harbor at the crack of dawn, actually setting my alarm and doing it is much harder.

There's usually something to photograph at the harbor.

Getting My Photo Mojo Back

Some of the greatest minds have come up with their best ideas in their sleep or daydreaming. Einstein's Theory of Relativity came to him this way. JK Rowling got the idea for the Harry Potter books while stuck on a delayed train. The tune of The Beatles' song "Yesterday" appeared in Paul McCartney's sleep. Inspiration can come from daydreaming. Therefore, I sometimes allow my subconscious to inspire me.

Did you watch the Netflix series or listen to the excellent Audible adaptation of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman? Without giving away spoilers, in one episode, there is someone whose brain is working overtime creating ideas. We do that all the time. When we are not concentrating on anything particular, our subconscious minds have fleeting thoughts that appear and disappear in a flash, around 60,000 of them every day. Like dreams, we don't remember most of them, but jotting these thoughts down can preserve them for later use. Doing that no longer requires us to carry a notebook, as smartphones all have a note-taking capacity. Recording an idea is easy.

Finding inspiration this way is a habit that must be acquired gently; forcing it doesn't work. Sitting and demanding your brain develop creative thoughts will aggravate the creators' block. But walking in a park and watching the people stroll past with the sunlight glittering through the trees will bring ideas. Likewise, being by the sea or through a forest, climbing a mountain, or riding a bike will stir creative juices. Not all those ideas will be good, but some will be. It is imperative to write your thoughts down or record them in a note-taking app on your phone. Otherwise, you will forget them.

By referring to these notes, new ideas for photography appear.

Inspiration can also come from exploring others' work. Looking at photos can give ideas that you can build upon. I am not suggesting just duplicating others' images; that's plagiarism. But creativity works by taking different ideas, mixing them up, and coming up with something new.

In a recent article, I mentioned that we should photograph what we know. However, we can soon run out of ideas. As a seascape photographer, I love being alone on the beach in all weather. Setting up the camera to capture that moment evokes an extraordinarily special feeling and embeds a great memory. Each new image is an advancement of what I have taken before. But sometimes, I get the "done that, got the t-shirt" feeling. It's then that I decide to do something entirely different. Sometimes, just going to a different environment can both motivate and inspire.

Round straw bails

I take my camera with me on my early morning bike ride, and sometimes, I see something a bit different that I will shoot in the hope it will give me inspiration.

Recently, I had a string of clients asking to learn about abstract photography. It's strange how it works like that when different people ask for the same thing entirely coincidentally. That was lucky for me, as it inspired me to go back and shoot abstracts. The world seems to work like that: things come our way, arriving at precisely the right time.

Photography is so often a solitary pursuit. Nevertheless, getting together with other photographers allows us to bounce ideas off one another. You must choose the right people to be with, though. Surrounding yourself with those who will encourage you and respect what you do makes a huge difference. Negativity can destroy your creativity.

Taking time to read about photography can both motivate and inspire you, too. Books are expensive, and e-readers don't show photos to the same standard as a quality print on paper. However, secondhand bookshops often have photography books on their shelves for a fraction of the original selling price. I've found some real gems this way, and my bookshelves above my computer are bulging with old photography books.

Music is another source of inspiration. Whether it's rocking along to Queen, listening to the surreal lyrics of Bob Dylan, or relaxing to a Chopin nocturne, the imagery evoked by music can bring ideas and feelings that you can translate into a photograph. Other art forms can also work similarly; a Caravaggio painting first got me experimenting with low-key chiaroscuro images.

I also set targets for myself. It's tempting to have a big goal, and it's rewarding to achieve that. However, setting smaller objectives that are easier to reach boosts my sense of achievement and helps me to move on to the next task, especially if I reward myself with each success. I move a little money into a different account, saving for buying the next lens.

Fear is a significant motivational barrier for many people. Everyone, from beginners to professionals, has expressed terror at publishing their work in a gallery or on social media. I guess it is like stage fright. The only way to overcome that is to do it anyway. What's the worst that can happen?

Finally, to overcome my lack of motivation, I schedule my photography. I write appointments in my diary to take photos, and I commit to keeping them. Inviting someone else along means that I must turn up.

Do you have any secret tips or tricks to help motivate or inspire yourself to take photos? It would be great to hear about them in the comments.

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9 Comments
Tom Reichner's picture

Ivor Rackham asked,

"Do you have any secret tips or tricks to help motivate or inspire yourself to take photos?"

I photograph wildlife, and I get the greatest inspiration from the animals that I photograph. For me, the passion that I have for wild animals is what keeps me going. That passion keeps me from ever running low on motivation, because I am so thoroughly enamored with wildlife.

So my suggestion is to shoot what you love more than anything else in the world. If you combine photography with other things that you love so much you never tire of them, then your photography will always be inspired and you will never run low on motivation.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Thanks Tom. That is very true.

Desert Vulture's picture

I have lived within a half-hour to one-hour drive to trailheads intoTonto National Forest in Arizona for several years, & have photographed it in all weather & light for several years. I needed imspiration.

Several years ago, a friend taught me to fly his DJI Phantom, but the high price & then 10-15 minutes flight-time made it not worth pursuing at the time.

I researched DJI camera drones again & found they had a reasonably priced Mavic called the Mini 2. I read the drone rules for Tonto NF & found that as long as you followed FAA rules & didn't harass wildlife (especially bald eagles!), flying a drone is OK.

I have just completed flight #50 at Tonto NF. GPS drone flying in the Sonoran desert has its own challenges, of course; like flying over uneven terrain & avoiding random power lines, all while making 'artistic' photo & video decisions.

However, I would urge anyone tempted to become a drone pilot to research if where they want to fly is in restricted airspace, or simply not allowed. The internet is full of stories of would-be pilots who bought an expensive GPS drone only to find there isn't anywhere within a hundred miles from where they live where drone-flying is allowed.

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's interesting. Thanks for commenting.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

Not a Pro but just a hobbyist since film in 70's and digital when it started. I think not having clients or such you can do what is interesting to your eye. Photography for me is like a science project and I just try to figure out a way to capture something. I did not have PS/Lr do to cost and first used the Canon software for my T2i fm '10-13, So i was interested in getting a sharp full moon over a bright foreground like a city so I bought a promote control device that would lock up the mirror and bracket in any range +/- 3 to 48. But I learned to get the moon sharp is SS/ISO had to be the same 125 and f 8 to 11 for clarity but needed a 30 s image for foreground so 5 at +/- 3 making .5s a center spot to start. But SW I found Photomatix at $80 it was the HDR era anyway. Being the HDR age I got the Sony A7s that did 5 at 3ev, even though a high dynamic range, found capturing sunrise/set at 5 at +/- 2ev got the darkside of things like driftwood would be bright even in the blue hour and once the sun was up is was small not big and blowout. The biggest experiment was the A7s (the Mark ii models also) have on camera apps and the filter app let me capture the milky way above a lit runway. Some things that I keep constant track of are weather, sun/moon rise/sets and direction along with Milky Way season months feb to oct and winter stars rainbows. Ever see a setting crescent moon with earthshine at the sametime a comet is in the sky too all over lit shipping docks and figure the correct settings. It is like capturing a lunar eclipse takes over 5 or more hrs one year in feb. at 20 degs and using the 200-600mm using a buddy heater under the lens but the moon is mostly at 12 o'clock high and you lay on belly looking at the LCD. Bottom line you need to find challenges and figure it out, it is the science of light and you have the tool to capture.

Tom Reichner's picture

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Edwin Genaux said,

"..... one year in feb. at 20 degs and using the 200-600mm using a buddy heater under the lens ....."

I am so curious to know why you used a heater under the lens! I regularly photograph in temperatures far colder than that, and have never found any need for a heater at all. Is there something about that particular lens that is prone to failure with moderately cold temps?

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Ivor Rackham's picture

Fascinating, Edwin. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for sharing your fabulous photos.

Ruud van der Nat's picture

Very nice article again Ivor. In my case being part of a photo club helps. The monthly themes we have makes me think about different ways to give shape to the subject.

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's very true, Rudd. Thanks for the kind comment.