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. meghan says

    to sum up the lesson to be learned here…don’t call yourself a professional if you are not. i have been building my portfolio for several years and still do not feel comfortable calling myself a professional photographer. i tell people that my prices are cheap b/c i am a portfolio building photographer. being just a beginner, i can say that it gets on my nerves to see momtographers pick up a dslr, use the on camera flash, have poor focus skills, etc. but since they somehow can afford the nice equipment they figure…i am a professional photographer and advertise as such. i know one in particular who claims to specialize in natural light and it just makes me want to stab myself in the eye when i look at her pictures! she is making no attempt to learn how to use lighting, no attempt to use manual functions on her camera and relies solely on a free photo editing program to complete her pictures. then throw in the fact that her poses are so cliche and all essentially copied from other sources and i want to scream. it makes me so mad for the people i know who actually have been trained and take such emotional, fantastic, practiced pictures. so…i guess the momtographer name and its negative connotations is aimed at the unwilling to learn/be trained amateurs that right off the bat call themselves professionals and charge before they even have a substantial amount of practice or portfolio sessions under their belts.

  2. Lucy says

    I am a Momtographer who does not charge for photos (yet). I take photos at school and sports events and share them (yes, the digital files) for free. People who see my photos invite me to take photos for them and I do it free of charge at this point because I view myself as still a student (this is sort of my free internship period). Anyway, the point is, I don’t solicit business away from professionals – the opportunities come to me from the products I produce (my event photos). This is exactly how free enterprise should work in my opinion…he/she who produces the highest quality products at the best price gets the job! If some ding dong customer hires an inexperienced photographer to photograph their wedding without checking their credentials/portfolio – then shame on them and don’t blame the photographer. We don’t need to protect consumers who are too lazy to research what they are buying (i.e. stupid Nutella lawsuit). I love Momtographers and cheer them on as this is an awesome creative outlet for a lot of us who choose to be home raising our kids and volunteering in the community!! Thanks to web resources like yours, we are able to improve our skills at home on our own time. Thank You!

  3. Madolyn says

    Jim-
    I don’t think most of the people who are having issues with “momtographers” are talking about the ones who are dedicated to the craft & work their butts off to learn it. I think the problem arises when a bored housewife who can afford whatever camera she wants decides to pick one up & then (because DSLRs are *really* good) passes herself off as a pro.
    It took me years to be able to afford my first “good” camera – but in a way, it helped my work… because if I could get great shots from a point & shoot or a D40 with a kit lens, then I knew I was growing as a photographer.
    It’s just that all too often there are rich moms who decide that even though it’s only a glorified hobby for them, they can justify charging for their work. The ones who just want to be able to take good-looking shots of their kids day-to-day don’t bother me at all.
    Honestly, I think the client/public needs to be educated & have our attention focused on them. Because as long as they refuse to recognize the difference between someone who thinks it’s a lark & someone who has actually taken the time & energy to develop their art, then we’ll see more & more clients slipping away. They have to realize what an investment truly good photography is.
    Thanks!

  4. says

    This week I received a disc with 140 images I paid for from a Mumtographer. I never knew these term existed until I stumbled across your site via pinterest. The Mum who did our shoot was recommended by a friend. I had my misgivings, but the truth is there is no way I could pay for an expensive experienced photographer, and I would be limited to choosing only some photos. Sure, she shot with her baby in a pouch much of the time, and it wasn’t perfect, but I still have some beautiful images that are much better than anything I could have taken. For family photos, you are paying for memories after all, and something is better than nothing. You make a wonderful and very true defense of the Mums out there. Also, I did the same thing with my first son and his photo shoot, and now that photographer is in the top leagues and for the price I paid for a full disc of images, I would only get the sitting fee. Maybe sometimes photographers might remember that you may be improving and able to rise your prices, but those of us who helped you in the beginning are still raising children on a single income and still need to be frugal, even though we would dearly love to benefit from your experience.

  5. says

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU for your fresh perspective on MomTogs :) I may not be a ProMomTog, but I do have several friends who are with growing businesses and I appreciate your view on them.

    Maybe you could do another article on the different types of MomTogs.
    1) Hobby MomTogs – (like me) who take photos of their own kids/family to avoid those high costs you mentioned. Be sure to mention here that friends and relatives EXPECT you to photograph their party/event for FREE simply because you have the camera and the time.
    2) WannaBe ProMomTogs – They think just because they have the nice camera and the time they are pro-photographers and should charge $ like one. This is the group that offends the rest of us.
    3) True Professional Photographers who happen to be moms – they know what they are doing and they know what to charge.

  6. Tommy says

    As someone who took the time to get a photography degree from an actual college with walls and classrooms, I have nothing but contempt for momtographers. Hubby makes a nice check so you get all the best equipment and still shoot the same overexposed pictures of ghost white babies and white skies. Every one of them should be required by law to shoot with an old Nikon FE or Pentax K1000 for a year before they are allowed to touch a digital SLR. Thanks to them, I can’t get a maternity session, or newborn session, as every woman on the planet has a girlfriend with a 5dMKII (Canon is the official camera of Momtographers), who believes themselves to be a professional photographer.There should be testing and licencing, and fines for those caught conducting business without a license.

  7. Jeena says

    I AM a momtographer(in training). I used to be a nurse, have always loved photography but just recently became a stay at home mom and now have the drive to learn it all. I WANT to learn it and do a great job. I want my friends and family to see what I see and have great photos! I have an old camera that uses film…I wanna tackle that beast too! Not just digital.I am happy to finally follow a dream and if someone throws a buck or two my way, sweet!Im keeping it as cheap as I can, for now. I just want to do it right. Not make others mad. I respect those that took photography in college, I thought nursing would was good at the time. I did it backwards but I am here!

  8. Deb Guzik says

    When you say “handing over the digitals” what exactly do you mean? (Obviously I am NOT a professional, but I’m trying). I’m sure you don’t mean giving the client a disc of their pictures. Are you referring to signing a release allowing the client to make prints or do as he pleases with the photos?

  9. Melissa says

    Just a -point of reference- story. May be of interest to some + “LUCY” might want to listen as well…A dear childhood friend & I reconnected after some years. It was a wonderful friendship- as it had always been. After a few years she asked me to photograph her Moms Upcoming birthday & huge family reunion. She had seen & was a fan of my work… I was yet to consider myself “professional”. We all knew she had been ill… but many good things were happening for her now and she was on the mend! I talked with my husband …expressed my feelings of excitement… that it was another paying job & moreover the exposure and the business it could possibly bring would be great. However, also relating that I was feeling timid and not sure if my skills were up to doing a GREAT job for this l Great gathering. After much consideration…I referred her to a photographer that is incredibly talented & has logged much more time and experience than myself. I could not bear the thought of this once in a life time event for my friend and all the members of her extended family somehow not being all she dreamed of! The images were fantastic and I never felt regret. Five months had passed, she had an unexpected health issue and passed away after 4 weeks of fighting. This photo shoot was the last for her and her family members- a true once in a lifetime event. The last images for her Mom & Husband…for us all to have to remember her by. One of the images was enlarged and was placed next to her casket . That once in a lifetime shoot, that I passed on- I never had any regret. I am so thankful that I had the sense to know my skill level and to be honest with the situation- to gladly help out not just a customer- a friend.
    Like a wedding….etc. You see “Lucy”…and anyone else that is not honest with their customers or with themselves…it does no one any good. It is a disservice and can only hurt the industry …Just be honest and if you want to be called professional- Great- then make sure you are! As someone else said- insurance, taxes, accounting and true post production work! I think I would start by not calling potential customers “ding-dongs”…just my opinion…..We are here to provide a “professional” service…not call names. BTW, I do think there is room for all & hopefully with ethics!

  10. stephanie says

    Thankyou for this,
    I am a so called mom photographer but i don’t charge much but i am honest that i am studying photography because at the end of the day the only way to become a full time professional creating beautiful artwork is by practise, and thankfully i have good friends and family willing to let me capture their memories and create art with them :)

  11. t-fiz says

    Jenn: I LOVE your question cuz it’s one that’s confused but yet surprised me as well. I never went to school for photography and even though I have a DSLR, I have never (and still) never consider myself a professional. But the funniest thing kept happening when others would see my photography-as-a-hobby pics on Facebook and they would comment that I must be a professional because my pics amaze them (somehow, LOL). But from that they would ask me how much would I charge for such-and-such pictures. I choose to play-down the ‘professional’ status in other ways too, e.g. ALWAYS shooting jpeg instead of RAW (lol), using auto white balance, using a non-manual mode on the camera (heaven forbid), not using the lens hood (there seems to be some sort of prof-status mentality of ‘my lens has a hood so that way you can tell I’m a pro’. (which, btw, why would you need a hood on a 70-200mm lens when shooting at night? On a similar note, I’ve heard of photogs painting a red ring around the edge of their non-pro lens to fool people into thinking they’re a pro because of their equipment…yikes!) I consider myself an ‘unconventional photographer

    Anyway, back on this excellent article’s topic and discussion here, MomTogs have at least one advantage over the pros, which is their potential customer base and pricing standard. Like musicians, artists, actors, dancers, any of the creative arts, we can all be photographers, we’re just at different levels, performing for a different audience.

    A final thought, why are photographers distant from and even rude to each other at events like they’re criminals? (haha, just something that I’ve noticed).

    • says

      “Like musicians, artists, actors, dancers, any of the creative arts, we can all be photographers, we’re just at different levels, performing for a different audience.”

      Perfect comparison!!! So true!

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