Business + Marketing

What’s It Like to Start as a Mom with a Camera?

September 2, 2019

By Elena S Blair

All Photos © Elena S Blair

Ask any photographer and they will tell you that one of the hardest things about being an artist is taking yourself seriously. Ask any photographer who started as a “mom with a camera” and they will tell you that it’s even harder to take yourself seriously. 

The very term “mom with a camera” has become somewhat derogatory. It disempowers women and implies that what you are doing isn’t serious or important. I think we should start thinking about it differently.

You see, the difference between a “legitimate” and “illegitimate” photographer has nothing to do with where you started or what inspired you to begin. You have to believe in your potential and take yourself seriously, and that takes work—it’s work that you can only do yourself. But I know that this is easier said than done. 

Art is so personal. When you begin your journey as an artist photographing your own children, it feels even more personal. But that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. Self-taught women aren’t any less important. If a tiny human, your first-born child, was your first muse, there is a place at this table for you. 

I am absolutely and unapologetically a mom with a camera. Twelve years ago, I gave birth to a son. Along with that came a birth of my new self, and to be quite honest, I was struggling with that new self. I didn’t know how to exist anymore. I felt isolated and lost. My son was intense and required a lot of me. I gladly gave all of me to him, but I lost myself in the process. 

Out of boredom and what I now realize was a deep need for self-expression, I started photographing him with a little point-and-shoot camera. And the most fascinating thing happened: I wasn’t only capturing what he looked like; I was actually capturing who he was. I was able to capture a feeling, his personality, his intensity, and share it. 

Sharing photographs of him connected me to the world, and that made me feel less isolated and lost. At the time, social media was in its infancy—I rarely shared my photos there. I mostly emailed photos of him to family and friends. After a while, I decided I needed a place to share consistently, so I started a typical “mommy blog.” I received the sense of community and connection that motherhood had seemingly robbed me of. It was life-giving, and I was hooked on this new way to communicate my heart and life with the world. 

Moms with cameras have a gift of capturing a feeling, memory and sentiment. The natural progression from being a photographer who captures their own children is to capture other families and their children. It’s what we know. 

This is when our “mom with a camera” label becomes our super power. We understand how children behave. We understand the wide range of emotions that are present in every family. Our work comes from a deep place inside of us that yearns to portray our love and adoration for our families. As family photographers, we are capturing a little piece of humanity and creating lifelong treasures for ourselves and the people we capture. We are artists, and we have something worth sharing. 

Now, even though I am telling this story from the lens of a mother who started her journey photographing her own children, this scenario can ring true for all kinds of photographers. For many of us, the passion began with something personal or familiar. I know photographers who started shooting because they enjoyed capturing nature in their backyard or street photography around their stomping grounds. Many wedding photographers didn’t plan to shoot weddings, until a friend asked a favor to shoot theirs. Some of the biggest fashion photographers out there started by shooting hangouts with their friends. You probably started your journey as a hobby, until something was nagging you to pursue more. 

So often during this journey, I questioned my purpose. I wondered if I had what it took to be here. I got caught in the comparison game. I saw so many who were further along in their journey and I thought, this is never going to happen for me. I want to share exactly what I did to overcome my insecurities about being a mom with a camera. 

1. Figure Out Your “Why”

I wanted to capture connection and emotion, to make tangible memories, so I put my head down and I dug deep to remember why I started: to capture the intensity of my son’s personality. It is exactly what I want to do every time I pick up my camera. I want every image to have a deep feeling

2. Stop Comparing

I focused heavily on myself and the art and business that I was creating, and I stopped worrying about trends. I intensified my focus on myself by taking extended social media breaks and breathers from the sites of other artists I admired. It helped me fine-tune my style and distinguish myself as an individual. 

3. Own What You Do

I became proud of the fact that I was a mom with a camera, and I told everyone who would listen that I started my journey that way. It was a fact that made me an expert in my field. The very term that is so often used to discount women in the industry turned into what made me “legitimate.” Once I turned it around in my mind and decided to make it a positive, that was exactly what it became. 

Don’t let your story be what makes you want to hide. Let it be what inspires you. I want every artist to become fiercely attached to their why and know that the industry welcomes what they create. 

You belong here; don’t forget that. And don’t forget that we are waiting for you. 

Elena S Blair is an award-winning family and newborn photographer based in Seattle, Washington. She is also an educator who co-owns Blair & Thurston Retreats and Lady Boss Workshops

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