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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  1. October 13, 2010 at 11:40 am —

    @Jenn, I don’t know of any online courses offhand although I know there are a TON that people swear by. The resource I’ve found most helpful is a book called Understanding Exposure — lots of good info on working with available light! 🙂

    latest edition:

  2. Jennifer Frost
    October 12, 2010 at 11:10 pm —

    I have always had a love of photography but it is not until I became a full time mum last year that I could afford the time to look into this field a bit more. I have a DSLR camera and am eager to learn more about getting the most out of it. Can you recommend an online course? I know a bit about the manual basics but want to know more and I would like to be taught about using natural light. It would need to be an online course that allows participants from Australia.

    Cheers, Jenn

  3. Lori W.
    October 12, 2010 at 10:54 pm —

    It always cracks me up when this same old conversation starts, that everyone starts their post with, “…I’ve been interested in photography since I was 9…” Because clearly that was WAY before they became a Mom. Shame on the “professionals” for making so many women defensive just because they are women. I see it in the “About Me” section of all those cheesy photographer websites too. “I first picked up a camera as a toddler..” right before they describe themselves as a “jeans and flip flops” kinda girl. Nice article pointing out what should be obvious to professional photographers. My kids have shot with a LOT of photographers and frankly, I wouldn’t hire someone to shoot my kids that wasn’t a Parent–Mom or Dad. I know a whole bunch of lazy, uninspired old guys that are professionals and still posing kids in wicker chairs. I’ll take a MOM (or Dad) with a camera any day.

  4. October 12, 2010 at 3:25 pm —

    Thank you for this! Even though I am guilty of some of the MWAC sins, I pride myself on always learning and providing my clients with a truly custom experience that no longer includes just a CD of images. Truth be told, I didn’t discover this passion until I had kids and knew I could do it better than Walmart. I love what you said about MWAC only competing with each other, so true! If people don’t value good photography let them find someone on craigslist or go to Walmart!

  5. October 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm —

    I have a bigger problem with someone being a shoot and burner than I do with someone being a MWAC. The biggest issue with people who just pick up a camera and decide they are good enough to start a business (instead of getting a photography degree and going the “proper” route) is that they don’t know enough to value themselves and by extension, the industry. I know because I was once there myself! The best thing about having resources for the “mwac” crowd is that they can immediately get some sort of feedback that by charging so little, they’re hurting not only themselves, but the photographers around them as well.

  6. George W
    October 12, 2010 at 11:58 am —

    Go make me a sandwich.

  7. October 12, 2010 at 10:19 am —

    brilliant. period.

  8. David Quisenberry
    October 12, 2010 at 9:28 am —

    The term mwac began because initially there were more women then men doing this. Today, perhaps to keep it gender neutral, the term should be Idiot With A Camera (iwac).

  9. October 12, 2010 at 9:22 am —

    I can’t help but comment….I understand the frustration that talented professionals must have with unskilled amateurs trying to be something they’re not. And by “professional” I mean truly talented photographers that behave and conduct business in a professional manner. What is so annoying though is that some of these pros act like photography is the ONLY industry dealing with “joe schmo”…seriously?? My husband has owned a high end landscape company for 11 years and every day he’s getting outbid by “some guy with a mower”. EVERY industry deals with incompetent people trying to pass themselves off as a pro. It’s so true that your style and personality will entice your customers no matter who the competition is. It just may require a little more effort to keep in touch with your clientele and spread the word to find new clients.

  10. October 11, 2010 at 10:22 pm —

    awesome- thank you!!

  11. Greta S.
    October 11, 2010 at 8:06 pm —

    I have been passionate about photgraphy since childhood, always taking photos and trying to achieve better. I always knew I could do better than Department store Studios, and I DO. It wasn’t until I was married WITH kids that I was able to afford a decent (yes, a REBEL) camera to take photos of my kids and my environment. It wasn’t until this year that it “clicked” in my head to give the biz a try, seeing as I could actually take a quality photo. And I will damn well charge what I want. I don’t care about what others charge. I’m working for myself and what I’M worth.
    The photogs that are “veterans” of this biz like to name call because they could possibly be a bit jealous and possibly feel threatened by (good) competition.
    They all started out small and new, too. Everyone seems to forget where they came from. And if we are all the SAME, then we are all just clones, with no expression of art.
    You call me what you want to. Labels are just part of life, I guess.

  12. October 11, 2010 at 7:54 pm —

    When I first read the beginning I cringed at first too like other readers. I am a new mother and I have been involved with photography since I was 9 years old. Through out the years I have invested a lot of time and energy exploring and learning. I have been on message boards where some of these photographer (who are also mothers) talk badley about newbies, styles, equipment, prices etc and where basically labeling them MWAC. I respect all photographers new, old, and everything in between. I think all of us can learn a lot from each other, and instead of getting all competetive we could be each others alies.
    On a personal level I have been doing photography for myself and lately I have started to pick up clients. I would hate for people to think I was a MWAC, but in the end people will say and think what they want. In the end I know who I am, and what I want to accomplish, in the long run I think that’s all that matters.

  13. October 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm —

    It’s funny. I shoot with a Rebel… an XS. I still use my nifty fifty. I’m a mom – with a camera – on a budget. And while talking to other photogs I find that they’re shocked that I’m still using my XS. They thought I was rocking a full frame and some sweet L glass. Nope.

    Thank you for putting the word out. Not all moms with cameras are just mom’s with cameras. 😉

  14. October 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm —

    Great article Kara! “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.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  15. Jenny
    October 11, 2010 at 6:20 pm —

    Hi Kara!

    I too havent heard of the term MWAC. But I agree. I am a Mom who has a full time job but found a new passion with photography. I try to better myself each day. I stay up late every night learning about my passion after all my Mommy duties are done. I charge less than what a “pro” would charge because I don’t have experience. But the truth is, modesty aside, the quality and passion I put into my work is more than what I can say for the other pros. I charge less because I base it on what the pros in the area charge but not because mine is less of a quality than their photos. I am a MOM WITH A CAMERA and I intend to get better and better and hope to be GOOD someday!

  16. October 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm —

    Love this! Hate the term too!

  17. October 11, 2010 at 5:40 pm —

    Very well said Kara!

  18. October 11, 2010 at 4:55 pm —

    Amen, sister.

  19. October 11, 2010 at 4:28 pm —

    I have been deeply passionate about photography since I was a kid. My passion originated with wanting to photograph the many stray cats that I adopted.
    I have since had children and all my previous work, effort and love of both cats and photography is almost instantly disregarded when I go to the park with my kids and my camera. I am NOT a MWAC. I am a person with many hobbies and talents. Photography just happens to be one of them.

  20. October 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm —

    I love your article Kara! Thank you for sticking up for MWAC’s! I am just starting out (portfolio building) and don’t have the tools in place yet to officially start calling myself a professional photographer. I will take that title when I feel ready and when I feel I’ve earned it. Until then, if people want to diss me, go for it!!!! It’s them who feel threatened by me, not the other way around. I’m doing what I need to do to get myself moving forward. At least I’m moving forward. Thanks!

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MWAC Is A Four-Letter Word