Mom Photographers Build Businesses on Their Own Terms

Photography: Shannon Karczewski

For moms with an interest in photography, charging for their talent looks like a natural next step. They’re shooting anyway. The hours are flexible. The portraits they make of their own children — and those of their friends — make for an easy portfolio. It’s an opportunity to build a rewarding career without making too many of the sacrifices that come from working 9-to-5 plus in an office that doesn’t get pre-school hours or give time off for children’s colds. And it seems to work.

There are no figures that show the number of stay-at-home moms who are also dabbling in semi-professional photography, but Flickr has several groups for “mommy photographers” some with hundreds of members. Mom*tog, a blog “for moms who love photography,” has been running since February 2009 and already claims more than 40,000 unique hits each month. Run by a new mom and professional photographer, the site’s Facebook page has over 3,000 likes.

Portrait of photographer Shannon Karczewski

For Shannon Karczewski the popularity of photography for stay-at-home moms is understandable. A mother of three children, aged  12, 4 and 3, she’s been shooting professionally for about a year and now has a steady flow of paying clients.

“Prior to that I was just a shutter happy mom with a camera always in hand,” she says.

Shannon learned her photography from books, tutorials and blogs but she’s also taken a couple of classes and like many other new professionals was dedicated enough to ask other photographers if she could “tag along” on their shoots so that she could learn from them. One of those photographers became a mentor and she still turns to him whenever she needs advice or has questions about her business.

Open Four Afternoons a Week

Photography: Shannon Karczewski

Her photography focuses on weddings, which she restricts to a “limited number” each year to ensure each couple receives the attention they deserve, and portraits of families and high school seniors. It’s the family portraiture, in particular, that forms the core of her work.

“As for families… I love them,” she says. “I relate to the moms, and I have a knack for capturing their kiddos in a way that makes them say ‘that’s exactly him/her!’”

Balancing the needs of family life and the demands of clients isn’t entirely straightforward but it is manageable. Shannon takes care to book her family sessions in late afternoons or early evenings on Tuesdays through Fridays and on Saturday mornings if she’s not shooting a wedding. Ninety percent of her work fits into those time slots. Sunday, she says, is entirely for the family and Monday allows her time to “catch up on loose ends.”

It’s that flexibility that’s the biggest benefit of combining motherhood with professional photography. All jobs, Shannon points out, take people away from their families but photography allows moms to do it on their own terms.

“ I suppose it’s not unlike any other job. There are times when you need to be away from family in order to work your business. That comes with the territory for any job that takes you out of the home,” she says. “[But] as a self-employed photographer, YOU decide what hours you are willing to work, how much business you are willing to take on, and when you want to allot time for vacation. As a mother… that’s huge.”

The downsides, too, are familiar to anyone taking on their first freelance jobs or starting a new business. Shannon described her biggest hurdle as not the difficulty of juggling the needs of motherhood against the needs of clients but the challenge of overcoming her fear: the fear of failure, the fear of rejection and the fear that she might not be able to produce the images that her clients are paying her to create.

So far though, those fears seem to be unfounded. Shannon has a website, a blog and a Facebook page, all of which help to keep her name out there, but most of her work comes from personal recommendations. Clients refer people they know, and the people they know are often young families like her own, allowing her to continue the rapport she feels with the people who hire her. Her business continues to grow.

Photography then sounds like an ideal profession for any mother of small children with a love of photography and a dedication deep enough to learn the business and develop her talent. But that might be an exaggeration. Although Shannon also has to spend time editing images, she’s still only shooting professionally a few hours each week — the times when her husband is available to look after the children. Her portrait fees of $250 for up to an hour-and-a-half of photography and ten retouched images are reasonable but wedding fees of $2,200 shared between two photographers and including an engagement shoot aren’t particularly high. Shooting while raising a young family might be convenient but alone, it’s unlikely to be enough to support that family.

Photographers Have to be Dedicated

That’s part of the choice that photography offers moms who want to build their careers as well as be available to their children. Earning more would mean spending less time with the family but the photographers are free to set their own balance at a level that suits them. But it’s also part of the criticism leveled by professionals against semi-professionals who need outside support in order to maintain their businesses and, in the process, keep the fees low for everyone while producing sub-standard images.

Shannon concedes that some photographers have harmed the industry’s image by selling their services before they were ready. Moms thinking of adding to the family’s income with their cameras need to be dedicated before they state charging, she argues.

“I think there is a somewhat negative stigma out there of moms getting good cameras and going ‘pro,’” says Shannon. “Anyone can do it, but it has to come from some place real. I believe, with my whole heart, that photography, good photography, comes from somewhere deep inside. Not from the desire to make a few dollars. If you have the passion for it, are willing to put in hard work, invest in workshops and mentorships and practice, then it will fall into place.”

4 comments for this post.

  1. christine hall Said:

    Photography business is not easy. Being in business for 14 years it is hard hard work. I support my whole family on my business and my husband does the framing for the business. I have no problem with"momtogs" but what I do have a problem with is when they give it all away giving the disk and this article does not mention having to pay for insurance, taxes,etc. Business is way more then picking up a camera and shooting and wala you are making money.

  2. Pro Photographer (@ProPhotogBlog) Said:

    Mom Photographers Build Businesses on Their Own Terms #photo #momandprofessionalphotographer

  3. Sadie Moden Said:

    Yes, being a mum and a photographer is challenging, but the hours/work can be worked around the family. It often means some late-nights editing photos and although the article makes it appear straightforward, there's a whole lot of energy that needs to go into setting it up and keeping it running. Clients don't get to see what goes on behind the scenes!

  4. Barry Perhamsky Said:

    I posted: What to charge for portraits, but I can't seem to be able to read it as it was posted. Write to me, my E-mail is: [email protected] and tell me what you think.

    Barry Perhamsky

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