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. says

    I think what concerns most “pro” photogs here is that technology has evolved to the point where a relative novice can actually produce decent photos. And while all of our extensive training lets a “pro” see that these photos are losing detail in the highlights, have poor skin tones and aren’t tack sharp – many consumers don’t notice it, and are OK with paying half price for a lesser product. That’s not a knock – it’s just a fact that not everyone can tell the difference between the $9 bottle of wine and the $30 bottle. If you are having problems selling your work, target the consumers who demand the quality you can deliver as a pro. I always tell wedding clients that they will spend thousands of dollars on everything from flowers to catering, and it will all be gone the day after – but photos will last forever. Also – he is spot on about retaining digitals if it’s weddings or portraits.

  2. Jane Clark says

    There’s a HUGE difference between an amature with an expensive point & shoot and a professional photographer. There should be a huge difference in price, but you get what you pay for. Any professional worried about being undercut by a momtographer would be better served by being worried about the quality of their photography instead.

  3. says

    Such a wonderful article! And so well put especially given that it’s such a hot topic right now. Thank you for having the courage to address it. And for the record…I agree with you 100%

  4. says

    You know… Everyone has to get their start somewhere… I bought a DSLR back in 2008… It wasn’t until my daughter was born in 2011 that I made the effort to “take the training wheels off” (AKA – auto and scenes mode!). I took an online course offered through the college I work at… And then I found this site. This site reinforce what I had learned about aperture, shutter, and manual modes. I was so impressed with the wealth of information I found, I decided to take the beginners course.

    If the other momtogrophers out there are like me… They finally found something they enjoy doing and wanted to share it with others and learn more about a field that brings them joy!

    As far as “pros” complaining about momtographers undercutting their prices… Not everyone can afford to pay top dollar for portraits. Perhaps it’d be a better business move to come up with a lower priced package to attract clients that want photos, but don’t want to break the bank to get them! Face it, business is business! Complaining about the competition (regardless of how good it is) won’t get you more clients!

  5. Erica says

    I love this article! I started photography as a small business a few years ago. I love doing it and enjoy meeting with clients and editing photos. For our family, paying someone hundreds just isn’t in the budget, so I love to give people that chance to get them if it’s not in the budget, since everyone deserves family/senior/baby… photos. I don’t call myself a professional. I did graduate with a fine arts degree and I believe that helps tremendously in my photography. I know that there are photographers out there that have spent way longer than me learning and shooting and respect that! I love learning more and more, and always seek advice. I don’t advertise, just word of mouth so that I don’t “hurt” the market. My family is a single income, but we don’t rely on the photography to pay the bills, so it is enjoyable, relaxing and fun since I don’t have to stress about bringing in more clients. My family and kids come first. I have been asked to do weddings, and I am not ashamed to tell people that I simply do not have the equipment or knowledge, and suggest great photographers I know of. Weddings take up so much time that I want to spend with my family, and I know there are other amazing photographers that use weddings as their income. Thank you again for this article and hope that I am showing respect in many ways to professional photographers

  6. jativad says

    I always thought momtographer was a term for people who have only taken pictures of their family members and have little experience. Maybe it has different connotations to different people?

  7. Lyndee says

    I think this article is well put. And in addition, in most circumstances, the momtographers are not stealing anyone’s business. Because the people who they do take pictures for are obviously not willing to spend the money, or do not have the money to spend, on higher priced professionals. Whether the professional photographer’s pricing is justified or not, those people would not have ever been a potential client for them anyway. So I hardly see it as a loss for them. I wish I had the money to spend on beautiful professional pictures. Photography is very important to me. But being a stay at home mom, with my husband in school and about to enter an masters program, I cannot justify that kind of money while living on food stamps. :) Bare essentials only.

  8. Dawn says

    I have to agree with Lyndee. I cannot afford to go to a ‘proffessional’ photographer. I just don’t have that kind of money to dish out on pictures. It’s just not a priority. So if a ‘momtographer’ comes along and can still give me decent pictures for an affordable price of course I’ll go with her. I don’t see how she could have ‘stole’ me away from the proffessional though, when he never had me in the first place. Perhaps instead of hating on us, they should become more affordable for the average person.

  9. Samantha Piersol says

    Thank you! Although I am not a momtographer, I am a poor college student who offers portrait sessions for cheap in order to help pay for my bills during school. Sometimes I feel like professional photographers look down on me, but I just let it go and know that although I am not professional, offering cheap portrait sessions allows me to learn more and gain experience and I ALWAYS let my clients know that it is a learning process for me. And they are fine with that, especially since they usually don’t have the money to afford to pay a professional thousands of dollars!

  10. Sonya says

    I never even realized this term existed until I read this article. In the past I always had pictures done by “professionals” at high dollar studios and paid for prints I didn’t even like. And then about 3 years ago, a friend of mine offered to do our family pictures for free so she could get some practice, and did an amazing job! I LOVED her photos. She is truly talented, and we booked her the following year. The difference was that she took natural pictures of my kids the way I saw them! Some people just have a natural talent and ability to do this. You could go to school and learn all kinds of technical terms and be certified, that works for some people. But somebody else can just learn on their own if they have a love and desire to do so, and still achieve the same level of greatness. And that is OK!

  11. Krystal Hague says

    Everyone has to start somewhere so don’t be so quick to judge. Photography is an art. It’s addictive and fun. Can you blame the mom with a shutter bug who has a passion for photography. That mom is also trying to help support her family with the flexibility of being a photographer, and the added bonus that fulfills her need to be creative. She will learn the craft and perfect it as YOU did, through time, on her time.

    “Every artist was first an amateur.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Just don’t be so blinded by greed that you cannot find the fellow artist in that momtographer.

  12. Kristin Link says

    My husband and I are wedding cinematographers but we have many photographer friends and have witnessed this silly debate many times.

    Photography and cinematography aren’t any different than any other businesses. If I’m shopping for a new tv, and both Best Buy and Walmart carry the SAME tv but it’s cheaper at Walmart where do you think I’m going to buy the tv? The only reason I might – for any reason – but the tv from Best Buy instead of Walmart is because Best Buy might give me a better customer service experience and offer other extras that Walmart doesn’t. But it’s not going to be because the CEO of Best Buy whines to me about how Walmart is ruining his business.

    If the TVs at Best Buy and Walmart are DIFFERENT, than I have a choice to make. Do I spend more for the better quality TV at Best Buy? or Do I take the ‘not-so-fancy’ tv and save myself some money? If I have the money and I want something that’s going to last, I’m going to buy the more expensive tv. But if I just really need a tv but I’m on a tight budget, than I may have to go with the less expensive tv . . .even though I like the one at Best Buy better.

    What makes photography or cinematography any different? We all deal hunt. Sometimes I shop at Whole Foods if I have the money – I like their produce better. But sometimes our budget is low and I have to settle for our local grocery store. Does that make me evil? Does that make the local grocery store evil for being cheaper, even if their broccoli doesn’t look as nice? And why should I expect consumer behavior to be any different for my own personal business?

    If you work on wowing your customers with the total experience, not JUST the final product, you don’t need to worry all the time about what new people are picking up a camera and popping up. And you know what – good for them for trying to pursue something they love. They may succeed, they may fail – but at least they tried. And if they satisfy their customers, then that is all that really matters.

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