I was wrapping up a bridal party shoot when the mother of the flower girl turns to me and says, “You were awesome, you must be a mom.” I laughed and thanked her, but, to be honest, there have been times in my photography career where I’ve felt like my motherhood is better left unmentioned — or else risk being labeled “just a momtographer.”
The word momtographer commands about as respected as a multi-level marketing scheme — or maybe that’s being unfair to the business-savvy Tupperware hustlers of the world. It’s often associated with the photographers willing to do a photoshoot for about as much as the gas costs to actually get to the shot location.
I’ve scrolled past my own fair share of posts from self-taught beginners with a $500 camera, a kit lens, zero flash and a willingness to photograph a family for $20. I usually scroll past these posts on Facebook with the same level of annoyance that I have reserved for pyramid scheme party invitations. But, the common factor is never simply that this person is a mom, but simply that this person is green. It’s the inexperience — not the title of mom — that results in these side hustles.
And yet, somehow, this class of inexperienced photographers have been saddled with the term momtographer. Urban Dictionary defines a momtographer as “a stay-at-home mom who buys a camera from Best Buy, teaches herself the basics of Photoshop and starts her own ‘photography company.’” Yes, photography company is in quotes.
Anyone can make bad business decisions. Are moms who spend their days wiping noses and vacuuming fossilized french fries out from under the car seat more likely to lack the self-esteem required to charge what they are actually worth? Perhaps. Research suggests a stay-at-home parent is worth $184,820 a year and moms are accustomed to earning $0 for that work. Many moms are accustomed to spending their entire day taking care of other people, without asking for anything in return. When moms decide to start a side hustle, it can be hard to change that mindset.
A mother (and yes, a father too) knows things that don’t come from a photography class. Sure, cleaning Cheerios out of every crevice hasn’t improved my photography skills. But, before I became a mom, I didn’t know what to do to make a shy toddler smile. I didn’t know how to settle a fussy newborn for photos. It’s the years of practice trying to get my daughter’s blue eyes to pop that’s now an integral part of my style. It’s the title of “mother” that has taught me how to sing Baby Shark to get a smile out of the flower girl, or when to just let the squirming ring bearer run and crank up the shutter speed.
I’ve taken photos from a hospital bed. I’ve hiked miles with a toddler on my back and a camera on my neck. I’ve photographed 10-hour wedding days while seven months pregnant. Don’t underestimate the strength of a photographer who is also a mother.
Momtographer, you are much more valuable than you think. If you haven’t yet, take an online photography class and a business class that will help you set your prices and market your work. Practice on anyone who will let you (including your own children). And then charge what you are worth. I’ll give you a hint — it’s much more than $20.
Photographers that don’t also lay claim to the title of mother, don’t let the word momtographer drip with disdain. Yes, there are plenty of moms charging too little for photos that may or may not be cringey. But there are plenty of beginner photographers taking equally cringe-worthy photos that don’t hold the title of mother. Besides, the clients who buy cheap photography are not your clients anyways.