more than a hobbyist

lifestyle photograph by MWAC Melissa Gibson

I am a mom and I am a photographer.  Since I am not a business owner, I am a considered a “hobbyist”.  However, I am not “just a hobbyist”.

I am an artist.

Even more than an artist?

I am a storyteller.

Seven months before my first girl was born, I was writing about her.  I wrote letters to her in her own journal.  Skipping by my old personal journal to now jot down notes about her life instead.  I remember putting my thoughts and feelings into HER journal because everything that was her was also everything that was me.  From the very day I found out I was expecting a little one I started writing messages to her and stories about her life.  Once my second girl came along, two and a half years later, I had already been writing in HER journal as well.

By that point, I had a book for each girl and every night I would lie on my bed to write all of the silly things each one did.  Or the sweet words that were spoken.  Even little notes that the big girl scribbled down…I would fold them up neatly and place them inside of her story.  Finally, the third baby was born and, you guessed it, I was writing for her, too.  I had three stories going.  Three lives of little ones being recorded each night.  Three sets of teeny drawings tucked inside.  Three books and several pens and pencils later, their stories were just beginning.

journals for writing to children

About the time the second story began, I realized that what I so desperately needed for my girls were photographs.  I could write about their journeys; their daily tea parties, first time they found a worm, and trips to the library, but it was up to me to create that image in their imaginations through the journals.  That’s when I decided that I needed images and not just imaginations.  THEY needed the images.  They were so little and would forget so much of our fun-filled days.  Therefore, it was my responsibility to remember these days FOR them and what better way than through photographs?

I started to wonder; How much would I give to have shots of my girls just being…my girls?  In twenty or thirty years from now?  How much would I pay to give them those memories?  Ones that they could read about in their journals, but also images that they could hold right there in their hands?  That is when the second part of their stories began and I started photographing them everyday.

For a while, the images were not-so-great.

old pictures from just getting started in photography

Honestly, though?  At that point, I didn’t mind.  However, after I found the Clickin Moms forum and I started to realize where I could improve, my stories to them also improved.

mom hobbyist child photography by Melissa Gibson

mom with a camera photograph by Melissa Gibson

Once I started sharing some of my images and parts of my girls’ stories online through blogging, I started to get those little ol’ questions called, “Why don’t you do this for money?” and  “Why don’t you open a business?”  After much convincing from others, I did.  And?  I hated it.  I wasn’t having a wonderful time.  I didn’t like shooting for other people.  Why?  Because it wasn’t OUR STORY.  It was THEIR STORY.  After about a year and a half I gave it up.  Turning clients and friends away was a bit difficult, but I decided that seeing the world through my children’s lives was much more important to me.  I wanted to be in their element and remember them in their daily lives rather than slipping into someone else’s story.  I wanted to photograph my babies, remember our times and focus on their stories.

telling your childs story through photographs by Melissa Gibson

mom photographer Melissa Gibson

Since I was no longer in business, I was bumped back down the “hobbyist” title.  However, (now I want you to really listen to this part) that does not mean I was no longer a “professional”.  Read that again if you need to.  That simply means that I was not a business owner.  See?  There’s a difference.  A hobbyist CAN BE a professional.  Taking money from clients doesn’t qualify you as a “professional photographer”.  It does, however, qualify you as a “business owner”.  Being labeled a hobbyist isn’t offensive to me.  Just as being called a MWAC doesn’t bother me, because honestly, we all know that’s what I am.

But, you see?  I am so much more than “just a hobbyist”.  Most importantly, to me and also to my girls…

I am a documentarian.

I am a journalist.

I am an artist.

I am most definitely a storyteller.

And I encourage you to be those things, too.

lifestyle photograph by MWAC Melissa Gibson

Melissa GibsonMelissa Gibson, Georgia
website | facebook | pinterest | instagram | daily project
Melissa is a proud MWAC who gears up with a Nikon D700, prime lenses, and edits her “fun, childlike, and whimsical” photography solely in Photoshop Elements. Melissa’s goal both now and when she first began her photography journey in 2005 is to, in her own words, “remember my girls’ lives for them. They are so young yet growing so quickly. I know they won’t remember it all so I feel it’s my job to document it for them.”

Read all photography tutorials from Melissa Gibson.


  • Anna Hettick says:

    I absolutely love this post. At the moment I am also a “hobbyist” photographer. But I do know that I am good at what I do, I just don’t make money at it. And while I do aspire to be a “professional” i.e. paid photographer, I am not entirely sure yet what sort of professional I want to be. Shooting portraits is fun but I also love table top or product photography. I love that you were able to stop shooting for money when you realized it robbed you of your love of photography. Very inspiring! :)

  • Alida says:

    Thank you for these words. I haven’t thought of myself this way, but it was so good to realize. And you like sweet tea? We can totally be friends. PS: Beautiful photography and stories.

  • severine says:

    thanks a lot Melissa ! I like your approach.

  • Wendy A says:

    Your story could have been written by me. I started documenting my 3 girls lives after I lost my first baby. 7 years later I still am. I create a photo book each year with my journal. This is my 4th year for photo journal books, and I know I need to go back and finish the previous years.

  • Erika says:

    Oh, Melissa thank you for sharing. The photographs are stunning and your words are so inspiring. I’m glad I found this and I’m sure you and your girls will cherish these memories forever.

  • Ann Lee says:

    Thank you. I’m even more inspired to capture memories of my family after reading this inspiring post.

  • Joanna says:

    I love this! I too am a “hobbyist”. I do some small business work but on a very small scale.
    I love the word “storyteller”. That struck a chord for me. Thank you for helping me see my purpose. I have struggled with this.

  • Kim says:

    Awesome. It is important that we articulate what we do and why because this IS a big deal. Our value and our training is not necessarily reflected in our income.

  • Belinda says:

    Love your photography!

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • Lauren says:

    I love this post, thank you for sharing and your girls are so beautiful! You capture the moment so well :)

  • Heidi says:

    Such a great way to look at what you (and I ) do. That’s exactly how I feel about what I shoot… well, it sounds funny to say I shoot my family, but they are my favorite subject! Thank you for letting us see your girls as you do!

  • Vanessa says:

    I have been in business for 8 years now. I have two little girls and I constantly find myself feeling guilty for not capturing THEIR lives as well as I should because I’m always working on others. I have been contemplating taking a step down and going “out of business”. Atleast for a while. Thank you for the article. It really hit home!

  • Carly says:

    I loved reading about your honesty and I think in our society we are driven to feel like we need to make a business out of it. Your work is beautiful and your children will love the photos and appreciate them, not to mention us!
    I would love to know what’s in your bag in terms of lenses. Thanks

  • julie says:

    I love this Melissa- thank you for being so open and honest. love all your pictures of yur kiddos

  • susan ramos says:

    you are awesome! I love this Melissa – thank you!

  • Hey! This is awesome! I am always struggling with whether or not to be a business. I mainly take photos documenting my family, anyway. It is just–what to tell those few people that actually come looking for a session? I like to get paid for things I like to think I’m good at. :) Don’t we all! But this was nice…it was a nice little reminder that it is OKAY not to run a business. That doesn’t de-value my work or make me illegitimate…thanks for sharing.

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