Home Features Losing your phojo: Is it a terminal condition?

Losing your phojo: Is it a terminal condition?

Keep calm and carry on at the church cafe in Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. York

I lose my mojo — or, perhaps, we should say phojo in this instance — many times. I get periods, even whole years, when I realise I haven’t taken as many images as I did in the past, and resolve to try harder. It’s a worrying condition, but I don’t think it need be terminal.

Will I, won’t I?

Probably I’m not alone in this. It will be interesting to get readers’ views on the phojo issue. Are you permanently on heat, snapping away every day? Or are there periods when your cameras just stay on the shelf and you begin to wonder if you will ever recover the enthusiasm?

An article by Andy Hutchinson at PetaPixel set me a-thinking. He says, in relation perhaps to a pastime becoming a past-time:

All the things we do in our spare time are driven by a simple love of that past-time (sic), hobby or pursuit. Those precious hours when we are not working should be filled with things we love and that we want to do. The moment that a past-time, hobby or pursuit starts to feel forced or work-like or that you’re just going through the motions, you probably ought to take a break from it.

I can certainly relate to this. In fact, if it were not for the constant nagging of Macfilos, I might well take the odd sabbatical and not worry about the loss of my phojo. But there’s always the feeling that if you give in and take a break, it will be harder to get back into the routine of going out to find photographic opportunities. The same applies to blogging. If I stop for a day or two it is very hard to restart. That’s one of the reasons I aim for at least one story every weekday.

Although I try always to carry a camera of some sort — the little Sony RX100VI is the default “minimalist” carry for me — I sometimes lack motivation and it stays in the bag all day. Conversely, if I take a bigger camera such as the Q, which nags with its presence, I often feel more motivated to unbag it and look for opportunities.

Really, though, I don’t worry much about temporary loss of enthusiasm. It’s normal. And the worst thing you can do is imagine that going out to buy a new camera or a lens will provide instant re-motivation. It won’t, of course. In general, adding new equipment only exacerbates the angst.

Keep calm and carry on

In some ways, it’s easier for hobbyists — a group in which I include myself — because we can just take it or leave it. Professional photographers are different. It’s work and has it to be done. I imagine that some professionals who hang up their cameras at the end of the day and don’t even think of snapping during leisure hours.

But as Andy says in relation to us hobbyists: “Learn to accept that passions come and go, give your interest in photography some breathing space, and you might well find that you come back to it, reinvigorated and instilled once more with a sense of fascination, adventure, and joy.”

What do you think? Are you so dedicated that you never for a moment lose your phojo; or are you like me, rather human?

All pictures in this article taken by me on one of my phojo days, all with the Leica Q


  1. All the pictures look sort of “HDR’d”, Mike. Is that how they came out of the camera, or did you “process” them in some way?

    It looks – to me, anyway – as if all the tones have been “compressed”, and much of the contrast has gone, as though seen through a stocking.

    ..As for losing my “Phojo” (..auto-correct tried to change that to “photo”, of course!..), I don’t “set out” to take photos ..I just do it if I feel like it ..like whistling! ..If something catches my eye. [Assuming I’ve a camera on me, such as that terrific little RX100MkVI which you so judiciously chose!]

    • These were self processed and not HDR’d as such. But they are all five years old and I suspect I overdid the processing at the time. I’m less bold nowadays. Don’t know about the stocking, there is no artificial correction compression done here.

  2. Following two lots of dental extractions and post-treatment complications including extraction site current abscess & max dose antibiotics, phojo lost until normal diet can be resumed and have necessary energy to carry cameras / tripods. Moral of this saga is that I should not have tipped so much sugar onto my breakfast cereals and into my tea in the past … and I should not have smoked for over 30 years. Both habits given up years ago but their legacies linger on. However, phojo permitting, itching to resume raptor photography project asap with recently acquired 1985 vintage Canon FD 800/5.6 manual focus lens.

  3. Writer’s Block is a similar condition to your PhoJo, a word new to me I confess. When you have deadlines to meet, cures for PhoJo have to be found or you might not get the next commission. But as hobbyists, does it really matter if all cameras are given a day or two off from work? I am happy if I can maintain a balanced and satisfying work programme, whatever that is in semi- or permanent retirement. I wonder if your referenced source was short of ideas for his blog or whatever fills his working day.

    Often you hear of photographers who have run out of subjects to shoot. Frankly, I have never suffered that for long. Empty time is all too quickly filled with some project or other. If they are non-photography linked, then I often find an excuse for making some progress records with whatever camera comes to hand or is just right for the situation.

  4. I only got as far as the RX100iii, but it fits perfectly in the Leica carrying case for my now virtually retired D-Lux 4, and is perfect for unexpected phojo making itself felt !

  5. I’m currently lacking on phojo. Because photography is a hobby (and a passion!) it has to compete for time and energy with work and family, and right now work and family are winning. I’ve learned that I’m either all in – meaning, taking photos regularly and staying in practice – or not (out of practice, no phojo. It ebbs and flows depending on life.

    My passion is for walking or hiking and taking photos in the woods or outdoors in general. But when time does not permit that and phojo is low I try to think of projects around the house, but I struggle to find a theme that interests me.

    So I’m waiting patiently knowing that time will be more available someday, for more phojo.

  6. One thing to add, though. I’ve found that printing older photos and looking through older photos can inspire more phojo and keep the flame burning when I can’t get outdoors to photograph.

    • Good point, ditto the masters.

      A study of an old favourite, “Saul Leiter” is a good one, spend some time looking at his compositions and be inspired….

      … hopefully?

  7. A ‘mojo’ is an African American charm, often in the form of a small bag containing ‘magic’ items. The object of the item is to give power to its owner or possessor in the love making department and other aspects of life. The term has been culturally appropriated to a wider audience to mean having one’s own power or ability to operate. ‘Phojo’ is, therefore, probably a suitable term for what we lose in those times when a bit of our interest in photography wanes. I find that I never really lose it, but I often get caught up with other things and don’t get the time or motivation to take photographs. I always find the motivation to get back, though. Sometimes, this is the result of a trip to an interesting place with photo opportunities, sometimes it is a ‘new’ camera or lens or a change in techniques. My most recent injection of ‘phojo’ came as a result of getting 8 satisfactory shots on a roll of 120 film from an 86 year old Welta Perfekta. Nothing else this year is likely to beat the achievement of doing that unless I get my 150 + year old Grubb A lens to start producing results with 5×4 film. There is a great sense of achievement in bringing cameras/lenses older than yourself back to life and getting good pictures with them. You get a real feeling of the ‘mojo hoodoo’ with that.


  8. Enthusiasm waxes and wanes. I find my camera is like a very good friend whom I do not see every day but must keep contact with regularly or guilt sets in. It is quality time with my friend and my camera which counts. Above all, once I get out with camera in hand I know I am now enjoying myself. Come to think of it, life gets better with a camera. Must get out today!

  9. I have been having a photog break of sorts – work has been getting in the way, and the weather has interfered in other ways. So I took a mini-sabatical. However yesterday I took the David B lens out to see the museum of the moon at Rochester Cathedral, and I throughly enjoyed myself. I got some nice images that I will do something with in the coming weeks – even if they go straight to flickr. (Anyone interested in seeing the museum of the moon and live near Rochester Kent – please go and see it, its an amazing spectacle, and is a pure photographers delight).

    I am still working on a street article, it just got bogged down in my day job interfering with my more enjoyable things in life. It will come good, and I hope it will be enjoyed.

    I reckon this will happen to all of us at some point in our lives, in more subjects than just photography.

  10. I take a camera with me pretty much every time I go out the house. The mantra being if you don’t have a camera you can’t shoot it. I have found though that familiarity causes loss of phojo. if I’m covering essentially the same patch while out walking or downtown for meetings I have to consciously stop and ask myself what is different? What would someone new to the area see? If I don’t ask the questions there’s nothing worth shooting…

    I also find with street photography that you lose your phojo when you’re not interested/curious/can’t be bothered about people. A trip to a coffee shop usually cures that problem as there’s so much interesting behavior going on.

    Weather also affects my phojo. In Chicago the weather can be bright and sunny, but the temperatures can easily go down to -10C without the windchill. Some days you just cannot be motivated to dress up warmly and go out and shoot, despite in my case being no more than about 1/2 mile from the lake front of Lake Michigan. Or am I just being lazy???

    So many different ways to lose your phojo as Paul Simon might have had it, but thankfully you can usually figure out why and what the antidote is.


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