Moms: You Don't Need To Start a Business Just Because You Have a Camera

Moms: You Don't Need To Start a Business Just Because You Have a Camera

A word of warning from one photography mom to the rest of the photography moms out there: you don't have to be a business person just because you have a camera.

Before I launch into this article, let me make one thing clear: I am not saying mothers should not turn their passion for photography into a business. I did it, and I know many other moms who did. Anyone can start any business they want, and anyone can be wildly successful following their passion. I think this is awesome. Are we clear? Good.

Being a Mom is a thankless job. Our customers don't smile and shake our hand, they don't praise us for a job well done, and the tears we deal with are not tears of gratitude. If anyone does have anything to say about how we do our jobs, it's usually in the form of criticism, and often from complete strangers; I'm looking at you, old lady in Walmart. So it's understandable that when we share a few of our first serious photos online (you know the one where you picked the perfect outfit for your little angel and sat them in the grass during sunset holding a balloon?) that you should feel the powerful surge of that most addictive emotion: validation. 

Photo by J carter from Pexels

When you're in the daily grind of caring for a family you can certainly feel loved and grateful, but those are usually silent moments. Most of the time you're too busy trying to stop one child from climbing into the dryer while the other one is smearing something questionable on the wall, and both of them claim you've ruined their lives. But when you share your photos online, people praise you. Friends and family members and, miracle of miracles, completes strangers, take time out of their day to tell you that you are talented... and damn, it feels good. It feels good to be noticed, to be praised, and to feel valuable, particularly in light of the constant invisible battle that is motherhood.

Pretty soon the requests start rolling in. Will you photograph my family? Will you take my daughter's senior pictures? So, not only do you possess the great talent, but people think you're good enough to actually pay you. The validation is almost too much to bear. Before long, you're searching up contracts online and creating your first, official Facebook business page. You are now more than just a mom, you are a photographer!

Moms, I get it. I was you. I was at home with small kids and, for the most part, I felt invisible. Of course I loved my babies, but the temptation of a side-gig that not only paid me in money but in those awesome feelings of validation and appreciation, was too much to ignore. The problem is, those feelings are so powerful that they often obscure the truth; not all of us are meant to be business people.

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

Photography is one of the few professions with a low bar to entry; you don't need start-up capitol or a degree. You can learn a lot online, and join the ranks of professionals in fairly short order. This makes it an awesome option for moms who are trying to balance a family budget. The problem is that running a business is much, much more than simply presenting a crying bride with her wedding photos. It's understanding contracts, customer service, marketing, book keeping, balancing schedules, and more while still trying to take care of yourself and your family, not to mention keeping your house from being declared a hazardous waste zone. The ease of entry coupled with the praise and the artistic fulfillment makes the idea of running a photography business a lure that's difficult to resist.

What I've seen over and over again, though, are moms who are at their wits ends. Moms who are giving up their sleep to edit gallery after gallery. Moms who are emotionally wrung dry by trying to please their personal clients, care for their kids, spend time with their spouse, and find time for themselves while often working another job to help pay the bills. Moms who feel like failures because they couldn't keep up with everything, and had to let their dearly-fought-for business go. I know this, because I am you, and I want to tell you, from one mom to another, that there is nothing wrong with not turning your photography into a business.

There is nothing wrong with remaining a hobbyist. You can take amazing photos on your own time, share them for the praise and connection of sharing your passion, and not take clients. Nothing is stopping you from becoming an amazing photographer, but take some time to do serious soul searching and ask yourself: do I want to be a business person? You need to know if you're up for the job of running a business, not just being a photographer, because running a business is a separate beast and it can eat you alive. You are not less talented and you are no less valuable than other photographers without at LLC at the end of your name. You do not need to run a business to be a photographer.

Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

Are there awesome ladies (Dads and other caregivers, this goes for you, too) who are juggling everything and making it work? Just plain killing it? Of course there are. But we aren't all built the same way, we don't all share the same circumstances, and it's unfair of us to measure ourselves against other peoples standards.

If photography is your passion, then be the best photographer you can be and by all means, soak up that validation and well-earned praise. If you feel called to run a business and you've considered all the consequences but know that you can handle it, then jump in! But you don't have to be a business person if running a business isn't right for you. It might not be the right time for you. You might not be cut out to be an entrepreneur or a sole-proprietor. Don't start a business if you aren't able to deal with all that running a business entails. The consequences it will have on your life are real, time consuming, and while it can be incredibly fulfilling, it's equally difficult. Not every mom will have time for that difficulty in her life. You can be an incredible photographer and not be a business person. Do what's right for you. There is no shame in that.

Lead Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

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43 Comments

user-206386's picture

Why not just title it "Don't start a photo business if you're not prepared to tackle the business part?" instead of dragging the whole "Mom photographer" nonsense into it? I get it, you are a mom too, but all this advice is applicable to anyone without making it a touchstone for all the sexist comments about how mom photogs are ruining the business you're gonna get. Because the sexist trolls are just lurking, waiting to make hay of this.

user-156929's picture

I agree with your suggestion but not your reasoning, just wanted to clarify that. ;-)

user-206386's picture

I was surprised to see that, then I realized: same conclusion, vastly different paths I'm sure.

user-156929's picture

I agree with Crystal's reasoning, below.

Crystal Johnson's picture

I've seen plenty, and a lot of guys selling 2 hour shoots for $75 ...so there's that.

user-156929's picture

I can't imagine you're competing for the same clientele, especially in your case.

user-206386's picture

Hmmm, "Post-Modern Erotic Photography" - can't make this s up! I struck gold with him.

user-156929's picture

Be nice. ;-)

user-206386's picture

Anyway, I thought Joel-Peter Witkin had that genre pretty much nailed down.

user-156929's picture

I don't know who he is, having no use for that sort of thing. I like Joel Tjintjelaar's work a lot! :-)

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Sam, if you don't know who JPW is, maybe don't Google him...just saying you can't unsee some things...

user-156929's picture

I already googled him but stopped at the description of his photography and didn't see any examples. I'm pretty sure I dodged a bullet! Thanks!

user-206386's picture

Joel-Peter Witkin is an icon of photography, and is a serious example of post-modern art. His work is no more graphic than any of the soft-core porn crap this blog promotes, and is far deeper conceptually and artistically. You do yourself a disservice to ignore the Witkins and Princes and all the other important artists you think you won't like. But that's your choice.

user-156929's picture

"When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change. The devil changes you."
~ Amanda Hocking

user-206386's picture

Annnnddd ... I called it!

user-206386's picture

You do realize there are women who support their families, right?

Tim Ericsson's picture

And men who don't have a family to support.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

A lot of men and women with and without a family are selling photos at a ridiculously reduced rate. But very very few include a "CD" because it's 2018.

kevin hoehne's picture

JPW.....ugggh why did i have to look it up?

I'm not a mommy anymore (still a mother), but this pretty much applies to me. I love photography and don't particularly want to do the business part. It would be lovely to be compensated for my work, but my passion is the art.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

I'm sensing some pent up frustration here.

Crystal Johnson's picture

I do not understand why this article is being presented to solely women when this applies to both genders, and to anyone with or without children. In fact, this can apply to quite a few different careers in the creative industry. This is yet another reason why women are underrepresented in this field, because societal subjugation of the role of mother, and more often from other women.

If someone is struggling with the business end, they need help to better understand why they are failing rather than tell them it's ok to just do it for praise. I find it a bit funny that you've written a few articles about not giving up when you're struggling, but this one it's perfectly fine to tell a mom it's 'ok' to give up and wrap it all up in a big pink bow.

Time is money, and praise is just like exposure. It looks nice, but it doesn't feed your family. Keeping it as a hobby doesn't negate the bad, in fact it can add stress to said photographer by way of feeling as if it's not a contribution to the family's income, or that it takes time away from said family.

Education is the key to success. Should at least point to a few good articles on business management, and how to be successful on top of the telling people to give up.

Dana Goldstein's picture

I logged in just to say amen and100000% to your comment, Crystal.

JetCity Ninja's picture

you said yourself that she's written other articles "about not giving up when you're struggling."

i've also read those articles.

it seems here she's simply trying to address another facet, in an attempt to eventually address all situations. in this case, it's for those who may not easily find a work/life balance and is letting them know that it's okay to hit pause on a new business. it's also letting some people know that the business just isn't for them... and it applies to both men and women, parents and not parents. for some, self-discipline doesn't come naturally and thus self-employment isn't for them, and THAT'S OKAY. why? because all people are different.

people can struggle at it for different reasons, and this is one of them, and she's addressing the fact that if it isn't working for you, it doesn't mean you failed, it just means you might want to try something different. she's helping people, women specifically, to avoid failure by quitting completely.

to paraphrase her in a gender-neutral way (at the risk of sounding like i'm "mansplaining"): just because you got a camera and a few likes on facebook doesn't mean you're ready to turn pro. whether it be quality of output, ability to operate a business, the self-discipline to maintain one, or the burdens of having a family, there are many reasons why a person isn't capable of making it happen... and if that's you, there should be no shame in keeping it as a hobby than to just give up on it completely. gender seems to be applied simply because the author is a woman herself and chooses to speak from her own experience and perspective.

a man can wrap her same message and present it to other men, even with a far more sarcastic, arrogant tone with no drama, yet a woman speaking that message to her own audience is suddenly undermining the feminist cause?

Crystal Johnson's picture

It's not aimed at everyone, it's aimed at mothers. Point blank. The entire article up until the second to last paragraph is written for photographers who are also moms. You cannot spin it that it's for everyone when its written a certain way and aimed at a certain demographic.

Why does mom have to be included when it comes to feeling this way? You're a man, and do not grasp the social expectations a female has to endure when she becomes a parent. Women are seen as the caregivers, the selfless ones who give up their lives for their children. We are forced to lose ourselves for the sake of our children. We have to be every woman, and often bear the brunt of life's woes.

Men are free to work and do as they please without recourse. Stay at home dads are often praised for being cutting edge and what have you, but if a woman chooses to work like a man she's seen as this horrible person that is neglecting her children. Yes, this article goes against the very ideal of feminism and how far women still have to come for gender equality.

The thing is you DON'T see articles written by men, or dads for that matter, that directly aim for the dad role. Why is that? Because, again, are free to choose their course in life. It's seen as a HOBBY for female photographers(who may or may not be moms), and a serious profession for male photographers. Again, female photographers are GREATLY underrepresented.

Yep, it's ok to quit or have those feelings. Everyone does from time to time. But the spin of this article is the issue for me because it's not just a mom thing. Had this article been written to address these issues for ALL sorts of photographers that wouldn't be a problem. Some of the points negate themselves , like the praise part. As if praise will alleviate the stress of doing something for free, and the issues that stem from it.

>Men are free to work and do as they please without recourse.
>Because, again, are free to choose their course in life.
No we're not. A man's value is often inextricably linked to his career choice(s). There are societal expectations that come with that choice. Men are constantly scrutinized by their family, peers, potential mates, etc. "Bad" choices come with severe societal consequences.

The vast majority of men are not kings. Most of us are small cogs in very big machines with little power and influence outside a tiny sphere. It's not easy. Never has been.

I don't know where this women do everything in the home sentiment is coming from. All the guys I know contribute to the household. We cook. We clean. We grocery shop. We change diapers. We get up at 3am to bring baby to nursing mom and make sure they're both as comfortable as possible. Oh yeah, we also work. Often in crappy jobs that no woman wants and no man in his right mind should do. But we do.

Dance Dads are a thing just like Hockey Moms are a thing. We go out with the boys about as often as you go out with the girls. M-F we get off work, drive home and go right back to work managing the kids and their needs with the wife who also just got off work.

Things are more equal now than they've ever been. Are there jerks who get off work, grab a beer and watch the game while the wife does everything? Sure. But that's not the norm in our neck of the woods.

And stay at home dads? They're under just as much fire as stay at home moms. Try taking your kid to mom and tot swim class as a dad. It sucks. There are swaths of society that haven't clued in that men can parent just as effectively as women.

Parenting is the single most important occupation a person can undertake. Man, woman, doesn't matter. It's a damn hard job that places crushing demands on an individual. Changing diapers is easy. Making sure you have steady employment for 18 years just to put food on the table and a roof over head is difficult at the best of times for average folk. It's not a free ride for either gender. I can't fathom why anyone would think that it is.

Ben Deckert's picture

Great article! Of course the concept applies to everyone, but it was nice that you made it personal.

Nicole York's picture

I appreciate that you recognized that ;)

You buy a camera - you are a Photographer.
You buy a piano - you own a Piano.

Too many, moms or other think buying a camera and getting a bit of "you are good" comments makes them photographers. Actually being good is another thing entirely.
Marketing to friends, family and the like can get you some dollars but actually being a Professional is a lot more than that.

In the age of Instant Experts on YouTube and the like we are really seeing the dumbing down of photographers. They buy a camera and now are "photographers". Someone gives them $5 for a photo and now they are "professional Photographers".

I'm in a small town with 17 "professional" photographers. Many of the MommyPhoto types. Here now, a few photos, often mediocre work, no professional standards to speak of. They don't understand business and are not actually reliable in too many ways.

It takes time, dedication and a lot of work. A lot more than "buy a camera".

I find this statement somewhat troubling.

"Being a Mom is a thankless job. Our customers don't smile and shake our hand, they don't praise us for a job well done, and the tears we deal with are not tears of gratitude."

This is the problem with the world. People think they should be thanked for the choices they make. I don't remember my kids asking to be brought into the world. It was my wife and my choice, it was our decision. We chose to be parents, as did you. But unless you teach your children to appreciate that life isn't free, that what you do is done out of love and not in expectation of being thanked by a 18 month or 18 yr old because you wanted children. That's on you. But believe it or not, it is a job that does thank you, both the children and the clientele. Referrals are thank you's. The smiles the client has when they look through their photos are thank you's. Repeat business are thank you's. A's on report cards are thank you's, I love you mom's are thank you's. Being taken out to dinner is a thank you. If you're not getting any of these, perhaps the real thankless person is the one expecting to receive such unsolicited, though from the sound of it, expected affirmations. At the end of the day, your world is what you've made it, you can have either lemons or lemonade.

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