In DEFENSE of Momtographers Everywhere…

Debate about momtographers the Improve Photography Facebook page

The momtographer debate. I liked these and other comments on the Facebook page. Many people had valid points.

For years, I’ve heard well-known photographers on the web (I’m resisting a strong urge to name names here) bash people–often young moms–who begin a photography business without the training and experience of seasoned professionals.  Today, on the Improve Photography Facebook Page, a mini-debate broke out about so-called “momtographers” and their place in the photography business.

Emily Straw, Erika Darcy, Mary Vogt, Erin LaSorsa, Mindy Woodford, Alexandria Wilcox, and other members of our community made valid comments on the topic which I appreciated.  But in this debate, I feel like I have to speak out a bit too.

Momtographer in action

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What I’m NOT Saying…

I am not advocating that someone pick up a camera, call themselves a photographer, and then advertise that they shoot weddings.  That is a fantastic way to ruin someone’s wedding, and for the photographer to get sued.  I understand how important family photos are, so the thought of once-in-a-lifetime events being treated carelessly isn’t a winning proposition to me.

If I were a beginner who eventually wanted to do photography as a business, I would take my time.  Take courses (I happen to know someone who teaches online photography classes….), practice like crazy, shoot casual family events to learn the ropes, get critiques, and then slowly dip your toe into the market.  It is possible to make a great living as long as you have good business sense.

Oh, and the last thing is that I’m using the word “momtographer” only because that was the word thrown around in the mini-debate on our Facebook page.  My wife is a stay-at-home mother of two young children, so please don’t get the wrong idea–no one in our society deserves more respect than mothers.

What I AM Saying…

First of all, business means competition.  Photographers have watched competition in action as point-and-shoot camera sales have plummeted over the last few years.  Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Kodak, and other camera manufacturers have watched as consumers have chosen to use their camera phones as a substitute for point-and-shoots.  Consumers have decided that a camera phone is “good enough” because they don’t want to pay for an additional device.  The manufacturers could certainly complain that camera phones don’t capture good quality and consumers are idiots, but that wouldn’t get them more business, would it?

A similar thing is occurring with momtographers (and dadtographers as Curtis Isaak pointed out on Facebook).  Inexperienced photographers, who flatly cannot deliver the quality of a seasoned pro, are offering cheaper prices.  Customers–hundreds of thousands of them–are choosing to purchase a $100 session with a new momtographer rather than spending many hundreds (sometimes thousands) more to hire an experienced professional photographer.

It is frustrating to be undercut.  As an entrepreneur and professional photographer, I can sympathize.  I support my family through photography, so the thought that someone would have the audacity to undercut me with virtually no experience is frightening to say the least.  HOWEVER, it’s business.  And not just any business.  In this business, the customer looks through the photographer’s portfolio, sees the price, and then signs up.  These startup photographers may not offer the quality of a seasoned pro, but for the most part, the customers know what type of quality to expect.

When I first started in professional photography, I advertised $50 for a one-hour shoot of any type.  It was completely unsustainable as a business, but we had recently moved to Florida, had a newborn, and I couldn’t find a job anywhere.  There is no shame in doing the best you can to support your family.  I think that’s what most momtographers are trying to do.  I didn’t produce 5-star photos, but I was honest about my lack of experience as I advertised to potential customers and I showed my photos to potential clients so they knew what they could expect to get.

With time, I improved.  I worked extremely hard to learn the craft and my prices increased to match my skills.  Eventually, I was charging several thousand dollars for weddings and several hundred for portrait shoots.  I came to the point that I supported my family 100% through my photography.  I’m grateful for the success I had, and I’m also grateful for the lower-end of the market that allowed me to gain experience and build up my gear to be able to create a sustainable business.

If you’re a professional photographer who likes to whine and gripe about momtographers–you need to face the facts.  Not every client is willing to pay $500 for a senior portrait.  If you don’t like that, then offer a service to the clients that is so good that they won’t be willing to accept the newer photographers.

2 Things Professionals Have Done to Groom the Market for Momtographers

  1. Hanging on to the digitals.  I completely understand why professional photographers refuse to hand over the digital files.  In fact, I rarely sell anyone a digital file of my landscapes.  I want to control the original and makes prints for the customers so I can make money off the prints and assure they are printed properly.  HOWEVER, it’s a digital world.  When my wife and I were engaged, we hired a professional photographer to shoot our engagements.  The photos were beautiful (I have it hanging on my office wall), but we were too poor to purchase more than one photo, and now the other photos are gone forever.  That once-in-a-lifetime photo shoot is gone forever, and I am MAD that I don’t have the pictures of it.  It’s frustrating.  Does that make me more likely to choose a newer photographer who would give me the digital files?  Absolutely.  This is one example of a practice by professionals that is driving away customers, even though it makes us money.
  2. Refusing to mentor newer photographers.  I often hear well-known photographers online advocating that new photographers “shoot second” for a while or assist pros before taking on a wedding; however, I hear from the newer photographers every day who would love that opportunity, but can’t find mentors who are willing to help newer photographers.  In a way, that’s the mission for ImprovePhotography.com–to be that online mentor for photographers everywhere.

So what’s my point?

There’s no shame in being a momtographer, who spends every ounce of energy she has to learn a new skill in order to provide for her family.  Everyone gets their start somewhere, and as long as they are honest about the service they can offer clients, they ought to be applauded rather than criticized.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts.
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Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. David says

    The biggest problem with so-called ‘momtographers’ (or any amateur trying to sell photography in the marketplace) is that they have driven prices so low that I’ve now largely left the social photography market. If someone asks, fine. But I concentrate much more on the commercial photography now and have replaced the lost income from family portraits by teaching either via the local college or my own workshops.

    Year ago, I always used to price at the lower end of the going rate to keep a busy calendar. Now even beer money pricing gives sticker shock. A £1000 wedding with an album used to be a heck of a deal (when some would charge £1500-£2000. But now you get emails from people saying some dump-to-disc chancer from Gumtree can shoot 5000 images for £100 and why are you so expensive. Utterly nuts.

    Now, some monographers produce pro images, some competent but hardly expert images, and many complete junk. The truth is many photographers buyers aren’t hugely visually literate and can’t really see the difference between poor, mediocre and great. They’ll ‘get all the images on CD’ for peanuts and that’s all they see.

    Now, it’s a free market so if someone wants to bring whatever service to the market at whatever price well that’s okay. Others must adapt to the disruption as I did by really hitting the corporate market hard and getting into teaching.

    The only thing that riles me is momtographers with no insurance that don’t declare their extra income for tax purposes. That’s just naughty.

  2. Julie Martin says

    I am a momtographer who knows her work isn’t “sell worthy” at the moment. I did a senior photoshoot for a friend who wasn’t going to get her daughter’s picture taken AT ALL because she couldn’t afford it. I take my kids sports photo’s every year because the photographer our school uses doesn’t seem to understand lighting or composition and I was tired of wasting my money on pictures that looked horrible, and poses that made me frustrated. Yes I buy just enough to get the team photo. I am learning more and more everyday by being part of these blogs and by playing with my camera as often as possible. I want my pictures to look a certain way, and I am learning how to get that look. I don’t want a snapshot, I want a portrait. When it comes to special occasions, I still call a professional. I would never in a million years shoot my sons/daughter’s wedding. When I think of everything you have to remember to get a good picture, I know I am not capable of doing that, yet. But how do you get there if you don’t practice? My family LOVES everything I do, and I thank them, but I know they are very supportive and can’t tell me what I need to hear. So I need to do more shoots that are not family related. I’m learning. But does that mean my time is totally worthless? Right now, I am comfortable “helping” out a family or two who wouldn’t be able to afford something anyway, by donating my time to help me learn. I have not, and can’t justify charging someone for my time at this moment. You can get a cheap hair cut from a new stylist trying to make a living. Or you can get a whole new style from someone who knows what they are doing. I think people know it is the same with photography.

  3. Aleeya says

    I love it when people complain about how newbies drive down the market by offering cheap packages then turns around in the very next sentence and talks about how they offered cheap packages when they were starting out to gain experience.

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