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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. October 15, 2010 at 1:55 am —

    I had a camera decades before being a mom… that’s right! I was a KWAC (Kid With A Camera) I got my first DSLR in high school. A TWAC (you’ve got it! a Teen With A Camera) I struggled initially with this term because I knew other professional photographers in my area just assumed I was a MWAC, and here I was with a couple of decades worth of experience plus years of art and photography training. However, it was something my photography instructor asked our first week of classes that came back to me. He asked “Is photography REALLY an art? If so, why?”
    Everyone who has a paint brush isn’t necessarily a great artist, and you do not need a degree or the most amazing camera to be a great photographer! Unfortunately this burns a little when those of us with education or experience see others with less succeed… time to put away the insecurities and ego, focus on our own work and realize each individual is their own worst competition. good uck to everyone! May you always be doing something that makes you happy!

  2. Meghan
    March 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm —

    It’s totally misogynist. Is there an acronym for the hobby guys with the brand spanking new bodies and top-of-the-line bodies who do “model” work? Who load up on every piece of equipment recommended in Strobist and post all their fussy overly processed photos on Flickr?

    I do think there are a ton of people relying way too heavily on Photoshop instead of technique–whether they are moms or any other people who think they are suddenly good because they sort of understand how to use Aperture priority on their DSLRs. They have their FILL IN THE NAME Photography websites and their PHotoshopped images and do “event” work, etc.

    But, as you wrote, if people are good then discerning customers will hire them. If not–they are really only worth minimal charge anyway. I’m just starting my business and I did start taking photography more seriously when I had a child. But I’ve also read a ton, practiced and taken classes before I would consider offering my services for money.

    If you aren’t good enough to charge a real amount, I think you should charge nothing till you build confidence. On the other hand, a crappy man photographer with a $6,000 rig probably won’t second guess himself.

    We think we aren’t good enough because we are moms and because we are women. But if we have technique, post-processing skill (and by this I mean DEAR LORD ENOUGH WITH THE OVERLY PROCESSED IMAGES! GET IT RIGHT IN THE CAMERA!) and an “eye,” then we moms have just as much of a right to be selling our services.

  3. FT Pro
    July 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm —

    While some MWACS,DWACS may have something to offer the photographic profession, most have no talent, skill or knowledge.
    It’s the lack of skill, talent and knowledge that hurts professional photography.

    The MWACS,DWACS that do have something to offer are called Professional Photographers. MWAC is NOT a generalization, but a name for an ever increasing group of wanna be’s that got a camera for Xmas last year.

    I could care less what MWACs charge vs what I charge, but using you Louis Vuitton vs Walmart analogy at least Walmart sells clothes that look and fit like clothes. MWACS generally sell garbage that does nothing but insult and degrade professional photography.
    As a professional product photographer, MWACs have little to no direct effect on my business – however in asking my corporate clients what they think of photography today, they say that digital and newbs, MWACs etc have brought the industry down in stature.

    Would you feel comfortable with someone running a nuke power plant that didn’t understand what he/she was doing? Of course not. Yet the photographic equivalent of that analogy is everywhere!!

    Again, to clarify and stop bleeding heart knee jerk reactions:
    MWAC is NOT a generalization, nor is it a slur against women. Women and men are free to choose whatever they want for careers.

  4. August 22, 2011 at 11:40 am —

    As with the other commenters, this made me feel bad. but then it made me feel better. I am a mom. I have a camera. I take the time to learn the craft. I am charging friends and family less than professionals. This will be more than a hobby. And I have to have faith that my hard work and determination will make my work stand out from a standard photograph.

  5. Ryan
    February 25, 2012 at 9:52 pm —

    Many of the greatest photographers of all time were and are mothers. They are celebrated not for their female status, but for the strength of their images. They are masters of the craft. They are deeply respected by all photographers, male and female.

    Produce solid work. Pursue perfection and technical excellence in every image you create. Communicate effectively. Tell the stories that only you can tell. You will earn the respect of all your peers (male and female).

    I came to this blog post to learn more about the term “MWAC” after a mother I know on a photography forum called herself that. I guess the woman was being misogynistic? I also found some videos on YoutTube by a woman calling herself “MWAC Attack.” Was she being misogynistic as well? Or, perhaps she was being hypocritical. Or maybe she was just wrong. I’m trying to figure where she fits on your list up there.

    It won’t make you a better or worse photographer if someone does or does not call you a MWAC. Only you can do that. For me, I plan on avoiding name calling altogether.

  6. Lisa J
    March 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm —

    “MWAC Attack” is satire poking fun at amateur mothers turning pro and attempting to start a business. In one internet article I read that condemned her as a bully (I think that is a bit strong), someone said she is married to a professional photographer in New Mexico and posted his website (and he does do some really nice work). It is likely that she is frustrated at how much harder her husband has to work and all the possible shoots he loses to lesser photographers based solely on price. That is speculation on my part, but it makes sense.

    I have been struggling with the MWAC thing myself. I ended up disabled by a chronic illness a few years ago and decided to investigate selling images on the internet. I discovered there was a market for it in microstock photography as well as in personal websites with pricing available for online orders. Since my illness makes it hard to promise when I can do things, I can’t do many other types of photography – deadlines are something I could miss, as are appointments for settings. I, also, am someone who started learning photography at a young age and have more than a quarter century of photography practice, including darkroom experience way back in the day.

    Anyhow, reading increasing amounts of vitriol from professional photographers has made me hesitant to take the final step and start submitting, just because of the worry about the audacity I have of trying to start a part-time business that I might be able to work around chronic illness. How dare I?

    This is a good, rational article, though it probably won’t do much to encourage pros who are against MWACS (and anything like them) to lighten up on their stance much. As hard as the economy is, it’s unlikely that they are going to be comfortable with uneducated competition any time in the near future.

  7. alex
    April 2, 2012 at 1:34 am —

    The term GWAC (guy) exists too, so point #2 is moot.

  8. sean
    August 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm —

    I have only just learned what “MWAC” means!
    No one should begrudge a persons desire to earn income and provide for their family. Power to the people starting up. End of the day, If you’re good – you’ll flourish.
    My question – what does being “professional” mean?
    Does it mean you make a living (not just pocket money) from photography?
    This is my interpretation!
    Be interested to hear others!

  9. September 10, 2012 at 9:01 pm —

    Interesting topic Tara. Everybody has to start somewhere… The term MWAC, however, doesn’t bother me anymore than the term GWC. Is every guy with a camera a pervert? Of course not. Do I get offended as a man when people use the term? Of course not. My work, and my persona, are what set me apart – just as yours is. Not every mom with a camera or guy with a camera has the skill or the desire to step up their game – hence the labels. I LOVE moms with cameras personally. As a boudoir photographer, that’s a good 50% of my business, so I cater to them. I encourage them to work on their skills and not to spend a bunch of money on gear. I write blog posts to try and help them out. Only time and talent will rid you of the labels – nothing else…

  10. February 25, 2013 at 3:15 pm —

    Thanks for this perspective. I have seriously considered the argument that MWACS are “killing the photography industry.” I think there is truth to the fact that they are changing the business of photography just like quartz watches changed the watchmaking industry. To survive, all photographers will have to adapt to the new market. Let’s face it, the more competition there is, the better one has to be to survive. #3 is spot on. I think we are seeing much more creativity than ever before. At the end of the day, Instagram, Piknik and similar programs designed to make otherwise crappy pictures look artistic do more harm to the photography industry than any MWAC ever could.

  11. June 9, 2013 at 11:12 pm —

    I’m new to photography and studying hard in college to learn. I’m trying to develop professional skills and even took the CPP exam just to see what was on it. I have attended some professional seminars and heard talk by professional photographers (with successful businesses) about “Moms with a camera” and it makes me cringe. They have stories to tell about how MWACS aren’t paying taxes and are undercutting their prices. They seem pretty pissed. There’s also another term “Fauxtography”. MWACS (in the meaning of low budget photography service) are not stealing the market from high end professional photographers. They’re simply providing a low budget service for people who cannot afford a better product. I’m not an “MWAC” and I don’t have children or the luxury of being a soccer mom, but I definitely believe there is a place for them. How selfish and narrow-minded to think that everybody who needs a car can afford to own a cadillac?? Some people can only afford a less expensive model. Same with photography. By offering a cheaper product, the market is expanding. It’s good to be able to give the gift of photography to folks who cannot afford the mercedes photographer. Welcome to the growing market MWACS!!

  12. November 5, 2013 at 9:16 pm —

    I don’t think the term MWAC is used carelessly and loosely, and I don’t think you depicted it’s functionality well in this post, either.

    An MWAC means, “Mom with a camera.” However, what we are really referring to are the people (men included, also known as DWACS) who have gone to the local Wal-Mart or Best Buy, have snapped a few images of their children, been told by their immediate friends and family that they are this amazing photo creationist, and suddenly they think they are ready to tackle on the world as a professional photographer, without truly knowing the cost of their “business” in the first place.

    I don’t care if you buy a D100 off of craigslist for $125 with a brand new shutter installed, you still cannot afford to do a session for $30.00. At $30.00 sessions, you are paying the client or subject to take their photographs, without even realizing it. The average person not in photography’s professional sector spends about double that to operate their camera just as a hobby.

    So, I think that the term MWAC/DWAC is very appropriate to the cause. See, because they aren’t photographers, they are moms and dads with a camera. That is all, and that is most likely all they will ever be.

  13. March 28, 2014 at 3:40 pm —

    I wonder if the author still feels this way four years after writing this article.

    A lot has changed for a lot of us in the profession- or what USED to be our profession.

  14. September 3, 2014 at 4:50 pm —

    Hi. Thank you for this article. I like to think that being a mom and a photographer are two separate titles… everyone has to start somewhere 🙂 http://www.flaviasphotography.com

  15. Rubenana
    March 21, 2017 at 10:54 am —

    Thank you for being honest. You have encouraged me to not give up. I am not stranger to taking picture, have been for a very long time but it’s now that I want more. Photography is something I’m good at and want to go all the way although getting started is much, I knew it’s will pay off and be worth it.

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MWAC Is A Four-Letter Word