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MWAC Is A Four-Letter Word

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MWAC Is A Four-Letter Word

MWAC Is a Four-Letter Word: {Mom with a Camera}

by guest blogger Kara Wahlgren

Before you dismiss yourself—or anyone else—as an MWAC (mom with a camera), here’s why you should rethink the label.

MWAC (noun): 1. a mom with a camera;  2. new moms with new half-way decent cameras suddenly thinking they are pros and charging for their half-a$$ work undercutting real photographers; 3. a shoot-and-burner who spends little time figuring out the science, art and finer mechanics of photography or the industry and charges below industry-standard pricing.

I should clarify that these aren’t my definitions. They’re the first few responses I found when, out of morbid curiosity, I typed “What is an MWAC?” into a search engine. It’s not too surprising. Skim any photo board, and the general consensus is clear — MWACs are destroying the industry by over-saturating the market, undercharging their clients, and delivering glorified snapshots.

But is it fair to make such a blanket statement? I’ve never been a fan of the term “MWAC,” but since having kids, it gets under my skin even more. I’ve been a professional photographer for five years. I’m registered, I’m insured, I rent space, I know my 1040-SE from my ST-50. But I’ve also given birth (twice), and I still own a camera (didn’t have to barter it for either of my babies). By definition, I’m an MWAC.

Then again, I might get off the hook on a technicality. There are usually caveats attached: you’re only an MWAC if you shoot and burn, if you charge chain-store prices for your prints, if you blissfully ignore your taxes, if you still use your kit lens, if this, if that. But however you define an MWAC, the real issue remains — the term makes “mom” shorthand for “crappy photographer.” It lumps all moms together without considering their experience, business savvy, or skill. And it makes a clear statement that, in the world of professional photography, mommies need not apply. If you happen to have kids, you’ll start your business with a handicap and spend a sizable chunk of time defending your right to call yourself a professional. Before you can claw your way to the top, you’ll have to claw your way to the ground floor.

Don’t get me wrong — I get frustrated by the influx of would-be photographers selling harshly-lit, hyper-saturated snapshots for pocket change. But I still think it’s time to ditch the MWAC insults and find a new acronym. Here’s why.

1. It’s hypocritical. Photographers will passionately argue that buying a good camera doesn’t make someone a good photographer. Then in the next breath, they’ll snipe that some local MWAC is shooting with a Rebel. They were right the first time — someone with artistic vision and an entry-level camera will probably outshoot a wannabe with a 5D.

2. It’s misogynistic. In any other industry, it would be called discrimination. Imagine a doctor returning from maternity leave and getting slapped with the label “MDOC,” while her peers warn patients that most MDOCs use substandard equipment and only practice medicine as a hobby. Sounds ridiculous, right? And where are all the DWACs? They’re out there — but they’re usually just called “photographers.”

3. It doesn’t matter. If you’re a professional custom photographer, the cut-rate newbies aren’t stealing your business any more than Wal-Mart is stealing business from Louis Vuitton. I figure, if a customer can’t appreciate the difference in quality, they were never going to pay my three-digit creative fee. So-called MWACs are only in competition with each other.

4. It’s flat-out wrong. Personally, I think I became a better portrait photographer when I had my kids. For starters, whenever I need to test out new equipment or a lighting technique, there’s usually a test subject clinging to my pant leg. And no one knows better than a mom (or dad!) how to cheer up cranky subjects, make someone smile, or adapt to unexpected situations. Most of my favorite portrait photographers are parents. There’s a connection in their photos — maybe because they realize the importance of the memories at stake.

For those reasons, I think it’s time to stop throwing around the “Mom with a Camera” label. And if those reasons aren’t good enough, I’d like to offer one more: Because I’m the mom and I said so.

Kara Wahlgren is a photographer in South Jersey, where she lives with her hubby and two camera-weary boys. Check out her Kiwi Photography blog or visit her Facebook page.


*If you enjoyed this article, you may also like “What is a Professional Photographer in the Digital Photography Age?” Learn more about the definition of a professional photographer and why being a Mom with a Camera/Hobbyist is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

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58 Comments

  1. Shannon
    October 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm —

    what a great and refreshing read!

  2. Sara
    October 11, 2010 at 2:54 pm —

    OH MY GOSH. Thank you so much!!! I have been preaching your point #3 for over a year!!!! Seriously, thank you for sharing the thoughts from my brain.

  3. October 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm —

    I hope the irony of an article such as this, which recognizes that time, hard work and artistic vision are necessary to become a good photographer (mom or not), being posted on a website with the tagline “your shortcut to better photographs” is not lost on the author.

    I certainly had a good chuckle.

  4. October 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm —

    I really liked this post. I am not a mom, but I am a beginning photographer who wants to learn. I don’t plan on going into business and do think that the photography market is way over saturated, but they have a right to do it just as much as the next person.

  5. October 11, 2010 at 2:17 pm —

    ABSOLUTEY fantastic article! I struggle with this label. 🙂

  6. October 11, 2010 at 1:33 pm —

    Ha! This cracks me up because technically I’m a MWAC. To the purest definition of the word. And I could care less who calls me that.

    I think back to all the MWAC’s who came before me: Tara Whitney, Mera Koh, Carey Shumacher. Everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

    And my motherhood is exactly what makes me see and feel my chosen client base (families) in a way that I never would’ve before I had kids.

    So to those who throw that label around trying to make us feel bad for being moms who also happen to have cameras you’re wasting your breath. Much of what makes us great moms also makes us great photographers. 🙂

  7. October 11, 2010 at 1:33 pm —

    @ Betsy, I want to clarify that this post is TOTALLY in support of moms with cameras — regardless of whether they started photography before or after they had kids.

    When I say “cut-rate newbie,” I mean the photographer who charges $10 for an unedited disc of photos. It undervalues you, and more importantly, it gives other people an excuse to undervalue you. Why should someone take an MWAC seriously if she won’t even pay herself minimum wage?

    And when I say “wannabe,” I don’t mean someone who wants to be a photographer. I mean the person who has no passion for photography but says, “Whoa, these people are charging $50 for one print?! That’s it — I’M going to become a photographer!”

    Hope that clarifies at least a little. After all, I’m a mom with a camera, too!

  8. October 11, 2010 at 1:20 pm —

    Another thank you here! This is so well put, I would never have verbalized it as well as you have.

  9. October 11, 2010 at 1:19 pm —

    @ Sabrina, I think that’s how a lot of moms get into it! Having kids is great motivation to pick up a camera, and then some people realize they have a passion or talent or obsession (or all three).

    @ Jenifer, if you do start pursuing photography as a career, you’ll find that the “outrageous” prices are actually pretty reasonable! I agree that a high price tag doesn’t make something art, but you can’t realistically charge chain-store prices and produce artistic prints — you need to compensate yourself for the hours you spend planning and editing shoots, not to mention the high cost of equipment and software (which you’ll probably upgrade every year). But that’s a whole other story and Jodie Otte explained it much better in this post!: https://mcpactions.com/blog/2009/10/12/how-should-i-price-my-photography-words-of-advice-from-jodie-otte/

  10. Meghan
    October 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm —

    This was a great article… but my favorite line was “there is usually a test subject clinging to my pant leg”. Too funny.

  11. betsy
    October 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm —

    i appreciate the sentiment of this article. however, it still feels condescending to me. terms like “wannabe” and “cut-rate newbie” are used here, and not in the point-proving way of the first paragraph. it also indicates an assumption of a lack of quality from a MWAC. it shows that even the well-meaning author holds the same opinion without even realizing it. every photographer out there, even the ones who fancy themself so experienced and educated and better, was once a wannabe. and they all started at the bottom, with lower prices (read “cut-rate newbie”). and they didn’t hop right into the business with a superior quality. the more i read on both sides of this subject, the more i believe that all you really need to make the jump from MWAC to “real” photographer is an obscene price tag and an air of superiority….boom, you’re legit.

    sadly, though this article was supposed to be in support of MWAC’s, i feel like it did more to drive home this opinion: pick up the camera before you have kids and you’re a photographer with kids. have kids before you pick up a camera and you’re just a mom with a camera. and it does alot to point out that there are MWAC’s out there trying to be pros who aren’t so good. but it ignores the fact that there are MANY MANY MANY non-mwac photographers out there who also aren’t good. in fact, they are probably the reason most of us mom’s bought our cameras. we knew we could do a better job. and we do. so don’t call me a photographer….i’m a mom with a camera, and it’s all i wannabe.

    • Mitzi
      August 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm —

      Thanks for this comment! So true! I have been reading a lot of hatred that has been spread online towards “shoot and burners” and “Moms with cameras” and I have come to conclusion that the people who ARE professional are just bitter because people are realizing that there is no sense in spending hundreds of dollars on ONE photo shoot where you get TWO poses and a handful of pictures to decided which 5 lucky family members and friends get one! 🙂 I am new to this, I don’t charge much.. I edit with Elements 9 and dozens of bought actions, and I shoot with my entry level CANON REBEL.. but I am happy and so are my customers. I did not go to school for this, I have a special needs child- I can’t afford classes. i enjoy spending my time with her and doing something that I can take her along with me. I am constantly learning and bettering myself. I am not the best, and I am not the worst. I know God gave me a creative eye and I am just using what he has blessed me with. I don’t appreciate people spreading hate.. It’s not what we were made for.

      • June 20, 2013 at 2:17 am —

        Beautifully said, Mitzi. I am reading this post some time later….hope that you are thriving!

  12. Jenifer
    October 11, 2010 at 11:28 am —

    I thought this article was very interesting. I’m terribly interested in photography, but it’s not in our budget right now for me to pursue it. That said, I have to say that I have been thoroughly discouraged by the prices that are charged for portraits. I have a 10 month old son and would love to have more professional pictures of him. I agree and appreciate that photography is, in fact, an art. That said, charging outrageous prices does not make a picture art. The picture itself is either a piece of art or it is not. I would love to, one day, have the knowledge and skill to take exceptional portraits and not ask parents to take out a second mortgage to purchase them.

  13. October 11, 2010 at 11:15 am —

    I think that your explanation for #4 is exactly why its so threatening to some. Especially the old cracky guys who are easily annoyed. 🙂

  14. October 11, 2010 at 11:11 am —

    Great article!!!!

  15. Erin Hull
    October 11, 2010 at 10:49 am —

    Thanks for writing this Kara!! I too, cringe a little bit each time I hear this term. I’ve always found it to be somewhat derogatory. A photographer should not be judged by whether or not they are a mom, what they shoot with, OR what they charge. Only by their work and nothing else. Since I’m indeed a mom, haven’t been into photography for very long, and have decided to go into business, I hope that before anyone ever tries to slap me with this label, that my work will speak for itself.

  16. October 11, 2010 at 10:18 am —

    WOW….this post my my stomach sink in the beginning, but I felt much better by the end. First of all, I’d never even heard of the MWAC term. Learning about it over my morning cup-o-joe was NOT fun. I bought a Rebel last year because I’ve always had a passion for photography and finally had two beautiful boys to work with daily. What started off as learning as much about photography in order to capture my little babes, turned into an obsession that I wanted to share with others. I began taking shots of any child (mostly friends’ kiddos) that came my way. I spent hours learning how to tweak them just so. That led to sharing them with my friends. Now that has turned into the beginnings of a business. I’m excited about this new adventure and learn more every single day. Reading this article made me cringe…A LOT. I hope to do the field justice and share my art and passion in the best way possible. Thanks for all of the great posts that have really encouraged me in this journey.

  17. Lynzie Cox
    October 11, 2010 at 10:14 am —

    Jenny….. We sound like the exact same person! I have wanted to do more with my photography passion for years. I have taken several classes, purchased tons of equipment and software. People try to hire me all the time but I turn it down. I just don’t feel knowledgeable enough to charge someone. I definitely don’t feel like I know enough about editing to move forward. My pictures are fabulous compared to some of the yahoos out there, but I know they could be better. I was at a baseball tournament this weekend shooting for a friend of mine (for free) and there was a company there selling photos. Of course, I had to go look at them 🙂 I was shocked that people were buying them and for $5 each. They were shooting with a Rebel, absolutely zero editing and they are terrible. He saw my 50D and asked me if I was looking for a job ha ha uh NO That is a prime example of what I don’t want to be! Good luck with your workshop!!

  18. October 11, 2010 at 9:29 am —

    Great piece! I am finally coming to terms with much of #3, and that I cannot be the photographer for everyone. Some people are just satisfied with chain studio photography, and would never pay for anything more. Others are satisfied with snapshots, and would never pay for photographs when they can “just do it themselves.”

  19. October 11, 2010 at 9:23 am —

    This is a wonderful post. The “too high/too low” post and several of your others have really inspired me to start my business off right – not undercutting myself. I am just a beginner. And I do (for now) shoot with a rebel… although I’m saving up for something better. I still am priced lower than I plan to be eventually, but this blog has really opened my eyes to what the value of a photographer really is, and why I shouldn’t try to be in competition with the chain studios.
    I appreciate not being called a MWAC. Call me a new photographer all you want – after all it’s the truth.

  20. October 11, 2010 at 9:19 am —

    THANK YOU for this post! I’ve struggled with having this label, even being critical of myself, saying I’m “just a MWAC” for now, but I’m learning. I’ve wanted and tried to get in to the photography business since I was in High School, it was never the right time in my life. Once I became a stay at home mommy, I finally had the time to invest in practice and education. I was pushed to start charging by my friends, and am slowly improving. I shy away from other photographers because of my MWAC label, but feel as though I’m taking good pictures. What gave me pause with my label was that I was TRYING to learn the art and craft, and I respected the industry and didn’t want to offend any potential peers. I’m still working to learn the mechanics day by day, and am excited to be going to my first workshop in a few weeks. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who feels the way you do – thank you again for expressing it so well!

    • Kay Asher
      May 26, 2012 at 10:23 pm —

      Great comments expressed. I have a daughter who is a pro photographer and now a mom as well. Best to all of you!

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MWAC Is A Four-Letter Word