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 was once a momtographer and after 12 years, I’m now a seasoned professional. I’ve shot for many major media outlets, magazines, models, concerts, pro athletes, major sporting events and more, all from starting as a momtographer. Moms often re-enter the workforce with a whole new career than they originally left. We learn our craft, research, talk to people in our field (network), etc. If you go into real estate or open a clothing store, both require great skill and knowledge to be successful and yet you’re not calling it a title with mom in it. It seems very odd to me.

    Pros are dogging on the moms who entered the field because they are competition, which makes them uncomfortable, and they feel that degrading them somehow makes remain superior. I got so many jobs early on because people were sick of not only the high price for professional photos, (warranted or not), but they were tired of the arrogance. Even as a pro, I now win jobs because some arrogant “pro” came in and behaved, well, arrogantly.
    Unfortunately, this is no longer a profession controlled by an elite inner circle with a price-fixed brochure and we need to adapt. On the one hand, we can (and do) produce a higher quality product than a new-comer and can charge more accordingly. It’s great if you can get it, but most people don’t care about our certifications or even know what they are, nor do they know the difference between a snapshot and art.
    In the long run, we’re all business people and personalities as much as we are photographers. We (most of us) have to charge what the market will pay and check our egos at the door.
    Remember, JK Rowling was once a mom-author and she blew all the seasoned pros out of the water.

  2. says

    Well put together, Jim. I’m one of the momtographers too, whom I believe most started from their passion in photography. The market trend has definitely changed – almost everyone has decent camera and photography tutorials are available everywhere for free, resulting in more photographers available for that market. This market doesn’t belong to the pros who charge ridiculous price anymore. Perhaps create another market – like providing tutorials, courses or workshop to this new breed of photographers instead.

  3. ashley says

    I love this article! I, am fortunate enough to have a husband that makes enough for me to stay at home with our young son. I also have been fortunate enough to have a friend who is a pro and he has taught me a great deal. I have made a gallery to showcase some of my photos from my old p&s camera and now I have had several offers from friends and relatives to shoot for them. I have accepted, but under the condition that they a.) Only pay for their prints if they want them and b.) That they realize that They are letting me practice on them – so they are providing a service to ME. (Donations for new equipment is welcome though! ) ;) but I just bought a new canon digital rebel xt 350d and im really trying to adjust to not having live view option. But it is so exciting. Glad someone on the pro level is advocating for us ‘momtographers’! Btw my website is: ashleymurphyphotos.webs.com please visit and give feedback! Thanks!

  4. says

    Thank you for this!

    I am one of the so-called momtographers. I love photographer. And i am always honest and upfront about my skills or lack of.

    I was asked by my cousin to photograph her Khmer wedding so i did and i explained to her i wasn’t a pro and she knew. She loved it!
    Then one of her brides maids loved it so much she asked me to be her photographer for her wedding next year. I kindly excepted because it’s what i love to do. But i did explain to her that i wasn’t a pro and i’m still learning. She understood but she still wanted me to do it because she said she saw the pictures and love them and it’s what she wants.
    I am just glad someone liked my pictures enough to give me something to do.
    I am taking classes and i am purchasing a new camera so that i can at least make the pictures better.

    Sometimes when i take the pictures in public i feel embarrassed…because i have heard people saying i wasn’t a pro why am i getting paid.
    Please people be kind….we are just doing what we love, it’s not our fault that someone else likes what they see in our pictures.
    And sometimes i don’t even charge…they just buy me dinner! :)
    But if they like they can pay me and yes i have no shame in taking the money because how else will i pay for the camera, programs or ink if you need me to print them out? Or the cd when i make a copy for you?

    I am still trying to improve…i’m not a professional. It’s just a hobby that i happen to love to do.

  5. Nicki says

    I love this article as well. I bought a Canon DSLR, just because I enjoy taking pictures and wanted to get better shots. However, there is an issue I have with some people that just buy a camera and think they are a photographer. After buying my camera, I had a friend get one shortly after because he was interested in photography as well. He started taking pics and had some nice shots. But a month later, he advertised himself as a company and offered wedding pictures, and started critiquing every picture I took trying to sound like a professional. I dont mind constructive criticism, but to have a negative comment about how something could be done better on every shot by someone that is clearly not a professional either, is quite frustrating. Being honest about what you do and what your capable is great, I know if I was to hire someone, as long as I know what I am getting, I will be completely happy.

  6. says

    Great topic. Most full time professionals–including women, BTW–refer to “momtographers” as “Digital Debbies.” Most full time pros look at Digital Debbies as taking food off their family’s table. After all, how would you like it if they went to your husband’s employer and said, “Hey, I can do this guy’s job for half of what you are paying him!” You wouldn’t like it, would you? So that’s why you may feel a little coolness or animosity from a full time pro. Plus photography is a highly competitive business. Where most pros really get steamed is when these folks buy a camera and business cards and now they are photographers. They know nothing about posing, even less than nothing about lighting. Do a Google Search for “Photographers Jackson Michigan” and you’ll get an idea. But nearly every pro started out as a part time photographer–I know I did. Just do it the right way. Don’t do like so many people do and print, “In business since 2002″ when the truth is you’ve been in business since 2:00 PM this afternoon. Good site Jim, keep up the good work. If others are interested, they can visit my blog, “Photography for Income” on blogger.com http://tinyurl.com/6p4sl5y

  7. says

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  9. says

    When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thank you!

  10. dianne says

    Good article. I’m a freelance editor and have been for years. The same happens in this industry. ‘Momeditor’ who loves to read decides this is a great opportunity to work from home while raising junior and hangs out a proofreader’s shingle with vastly reduced hourly rates. This hurts the entire industry, lowers overall standards, skews the bell curve for contracts, etc. Senior editors have worked hard to charge a fair rate. When undercut, we continually need to justify our rates based on skill set and years of experience.

  11. Cindy Quigley says

    I have a wonderful Professional mentor in Lori Faith Merritt Photography by Faith. I have no desire to make my photography a business but I would like to be able to shoot professional quality photographs. It makes a huge difference to have someone like Lori Faith to work with.
    C

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