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

    Great article. So true. There is a market for lower budget photography – this is the perfect spot of portfolio builders. Consumers know “you get what you pay for”. Someone who values experience and quality will choose the professional, but there are momtographers who do very well . . . pleasing their clients and growing their business.

  2. Barb says

    I am an amateur, with a huge desire to learn, but not to go into business. Your point about not having the original files of your wedding reminded me of something that happened to me. I was asked to shoot an even for a friend, as a favor. The shots came out better than expected, but before I could edit blemishes and red eye, she wanted the photos. I gave her a disk of the unedited files. She then posted them on Facebook. I’m not going to go into business, but I felt embarrassed. On the final images, I removed blemishes, and fuzz on a suit, and some trash that had blown onto the lawn. She also applied effects she found on a photo-editing site. Since we had no contract (I am not in business), I have to keep quiet. Bu I learned my lesson. Client or friend, no one gets files that I need to edit!

  3. Joanna says

    Great article. You make some very good points. They may not be undercutting other professionals but charging what they are worth!

  4. Jann says

    I really enjoyed the article. I am a single mom of a senior. I started researching prices last summer and soon realized I would be restricted to the number of photos I could purchase. All of the local photographers charged $200 or more for a CD. I wasn’t going to settle for a few pictures, so I invested in a good camera (by my non-professional standards). I got a good price on a model that was no longer available and started practicing at family gatherings to get a feel for my new SLR camera. I knew my pictures wouldn’t be as good as a professional session, but I was determined to get some good pictures. Sure I had to take a lot more photos to get the good ones, but we had fun. My son has a large selection of pictures, so I know my camera was a good investment. By investing in a camera I was able take pictures for his friend, whose single mom couldn’t afford a professional session. My son & his friend are not the only ones in their class that had pictures taken by family. Therefore I don’t think these beginner photographers are undercutting the professionals….I think they are offering services to those who can’t afford a professional, while they gain experience. Though I have no plans to become a professional I was flattered that many were surprised that I had taken their pictures. I have already had other family members ask me to take their kids senior pictures next year, so I hope to be able to take you class in the near future to improve the quality of my pictures, and reduce my time editing.

  5. Agnes says

    I work in the fashion industry and we make our clothing locally. Of course you always get mums working for a tiny little wage for themselves who undercut you. It’s frustrating and I am not sure why they do it. But you just have to get on with it. Guess the same is true for photography. Frustrating.

  6. Farrah says

    I loved this article. Not to mention I am a young mom of a 1 year old daughter. I’m working as much as I can and going to school full time yet I am still spending every penny I make on necessities with nothing left over. I recently started up a small side business shooting my friends and family. Nonetheless, I am an amatuer but I do believe I have skills. I always show my prospective clients my portfolio and let them know my situation. I couldn’t agree more with every sentence in this article and I appreciate you standing up for those of us who apparently (it wasn’t to my knowledge until now) get bashed for trying to support ourselves and our little worlds! I really appreciate it. and look forward to reading more from this website.

  7. Steffanie F says

    As one of these awful undercutting “momtographers”, I just wanted to say that I think photographers who bash amateurs should take a step back and think about the fact that it is difficult for a family on a budget to pay hundreds of dollars for a few pictures of their child. Maybe some momtographers undercut your prices not to insult your experience but to allow families to have beautiful memories captured without needing to take out a second mortgage.

  8. says

    I have no problems with “momtographers” who work at what they do, and actually try to learn the trade. Unfortunately, I know a few who do not. They literally got cameras, such as a Canon Rebel, and started charging people. When I was a “momtographer” I offered free sessions and very inexpensive prints…it was practice not business. I feel really bad for people who hire inexperienced photographers for weddings. My wedding pictures were HORRIBLE because it was a total novice (he did it for free, and my mother picked him). The only advice I can give for “momtographers” out there would be not to charge customers for your first YEAR. Unless you’ve taken classes, consider your first year your skill building class. Learn how to get off of Automatic (if you don’t know what this means, learn it), and learn to use your controls. Consider your 2nd year your Amateur year, and don’t charge an arm & a leg. You’re going to screw up. You’ll have unhappy customers who want re-do’s. Beat them to the punch and offer a re-do if you’re not happy with the images. Be your biggest critic.

  9. Robert says

    I’m someone who was a pro for a while, got out of it when there was a ton of money to be made in computers, and recently returned.

    I LOVE your article! I’ve mentored & taught, and have used the term Momtographer in not so kind terms… but… not for those who actually wanted to learn everything about the craft.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard novices who charge say that they didn’t believe in lighting subjects outdoors, and had no desire to learn anything about lighting… Those are the people I have no respect for.

    Oh… If you use a “free” photographer, you always get what you pay for!

  10. Chantel says

    I don’t have a problem with ‘momtographers’… as long as they’re willing to follow all the same business practices that professionals are supposed to follow. To this end, I mean things like accounting, insurance, etc.

  11. Mandy Frehner says

    Great article. People need to understand there is a niche in every market and price point. Some people can not afford to spend hundreds of dollars on pictures…yet should not be denied family portraits. So many “momtographers” are filling that need.
    If you are a “professional” instead of feeling threatened, step up your game.
    If your a “momtographer” be honest with what you provide and your skill level.
    And by all means, if you are a customer, make sure you are going with a photographer that fits your style and budget!

  12. Tasheena says

    It’s interesting to me that so many of you professionals feel that us “momtographers” are “undercutting” you. From my perspective, I think it would be entirely presumptuous to try and walk into such a competitive and somewhat inhospitable business and have the audacity to charge competitive prices when my experience, skill level & equipment are so completely inferior. I appreciate this article because it makes me feel like I am approaching my desire to start a photography business the most appropriate and respectful way available to me- as a mother of four with a lifelong desire to pursue photography. I’m dipping my toes, reading, practicing, studying, offering my services for free or minimal price because I sure do hope my clients realize what they’re getting. I’m not charging undercutting prices for professional quality photos. I’m asking for people to take a risk on a newbie entering the business and trying to learn and build a portfolio. And I’m grateful that there are people out there who are willing to take a chance on me and who are in turn grateful for me to spend my very precious and limited time helping them make memories they might otherwise be unable to afford. I’m pretty sure I’m definitely not going to be the one who’s stealing your business. If they can afford you, they won’t glance at me.

    • Sonia says

      Ditto! I offered free shoots and photos for about a year to build my portfolio and experience. Some opportunites presented themselves…i.e events, friend having a baby, holidays, and parties. Some opportunities I had to seek out – asking a friend to let me shoot them for practice. Once I even traded free portraits of a friends daughter just to have access to private stables for an equine shoot. I took the time to learn how to use my camera, lighting, composition…..I am still learning. I now charge for my service but feel the minimal pricing is parallel to my quality. And like you, am grateful that they are trusting me – the newbie – with capturing some of thier most precious moments. I do draw the line as I know my limits – no weddings, formal events, or anything I feel I can’t handle alone or with a fellow photog and still produce great photos.

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