It’ll Cost You, One Way or Another

When I hear people talk about the high cost of custom portrait photography, or hear about how so-and-so has a really nice camera and will do it for free, I cringe.  I get it, it’s a lot of money.  It is.  We all work hard for what we have so why should we blow it when we can find a cheaper deal?

You could trust your memories with a friend with a nice camera.  You could even hire a “photographer” with a lot of “likes” on their Facebook page, even though they have no actual website.  You would certainly be getting a bargain, right?  A photo session, and likely the whole CD of everything they shot!  For only $50!

I implore you consider a few things:




Quality of images– When you hire a professional, you can be certain that every image in your gallery will be in focus, correctly exposed (not too bright or too dark), no one will be missing limbs or hands, the sun won’t be so brightly shining that everyone is squinting (who wants a picture with nobody’s eyes?!) and everyone will look their absolute best.


A professional spends a lot of time learning about the technical aspects of photography, such as exposure and focus but we also agonize over things like the right posing for a specific body type or face shape, or the best way to pose a large group to show intimacy or relationship among individual families within that group.  We are capable of creating a wide variety of poses, as well as integrating lifestyle, or candid, looks within one session. We have perfected techniques for coaxing smiles from the surliest of teenagers to the most reluctant of toddlers.  Simply pointing a camera and shouting “say cheese!” is NOT the way it works with families and children.  They require patience and lots of tools and tricks that come from experience, not equipment.  No expensive camera or gadget can achieve it.


So you decide to go the budget-friendly route anyway, because you really trust your friend, after all.  Your friend emails you pictures of your new baby.  The first one is pretty cute, but, oh no!  The rest are pretty dark, and some of them are completely blurry! Time to call the pricey photographer you checked into.  The one you LOVED and wanted to hire until that co-worker of your husband offered to do it for free.  BUT-you call her and tell her what happened.  She manages to squeeze you into her packed schedule (newborn sessions are scheduled months before Baby is due) but Baby is now over a month old.  She reminds you those sleepy, curly, womb-like images are now completely out of the question.  A qualified professional can still create lovely images of your baby, but after a certain age they just won’t be like the ones you fell in love with.  You’ve also missed the opportunity to capture memories of the sweetness that is your brand new baby.  Remember that fine fuzz they’re covered in?  Or those little wrinkles and teeny fingers?  They’re still there, but no where near the same as they were when they were brand new.




Professional business practices– Any business owner should be able to provide proof of insurance and should be in legal accordance with their state’s tax regulations (which is another ‘hidden’ cost of doing business and part of the reason we can’t offer everything for a few bucks).


A professional would also be able to provide certain services to their clients that a friend or person with a camera and Facebook page would not.  When my clients trust me with their memories, they are trusting me with them for years.  The best way to protect your images is to print them.  In ten years that disc will be both outdated technology as well as contain old and corrupted files.  My clients receive professional quality prints that will last hundreds of years if handled properly.  They are guaranteed not to chip, fade or yellow.  I also archive all my clients’ images so if they were ever lost we would be able to obtain more. (Digital archival files are also available, as well, but prints are recommended for this reason.)


We as professionals also have access to higher end labs for creating those boutique style products our clients are after.  The albums, gallery wrapped canvases and birth announcements do not come from big box stores’ printing kiosks.  They are each designed by your professional photographer and created in a professional grade lab and guaranteed not to fade or degrade over time.  The integrity of the color and skin tones is also kept intact.  Ever done a side-by-side comparison? (Hmmm, idea for my next post?)  The difference among the different consumer grade labs is shocking.  Some turn you green, some make everyone have a yellowish tone.  Not very flattering.


We also offer the *experience* of a custom portrait session.  From booking to ordering and everything in between, your photographer is there for you every step of the way.  Included in my sessions are the pre-session consultation, where we decide on things like clothing choices, vision for the types of images you are interested in creating, location, session, package, print and product information.  We schedule your shoot and once the images have been selected, edited and your video slideshow and gallery have been created you come in for a viewing and ordering appointment.  There we view everything on a big screen, while you sit back and enjoy.  Once you’ve viewed your slideshow we sit down and go through the options again and I help you create albums, custom wall art collections, gift prints for grandparents or create holiday cards or birth announcements.  All while touching and seeing all the different products up close.  Without those services how would you choose exactly what you wanted?  How would you know just how it would look to have a certain size or grouping on your wall if your photographer didn’t have them available at the time of ordering?  Or worse, if you were stuck on your own with just an online cart?


I take it a step further and use an app on my iPad that shows you YOUR images on YOUR walls in whichever sizes, groupings and frames you like.


Safety– I’ll say it again, “SAFETY”.  Its THE big one.  Please, please, PLEASE do not trust anyone but a trained professional to handle your newborn.  A professional will spend hours in workshops and other educational training and one-on-one experience learning the physiology of newborns and how that pertains to photographing them.  Your photographer should never ever be more than a few inches away from your baby unless she has an assistant or teaches the parents to spot baby.  We use buckets and bowls, tables and chairs, and beanbags and more to pose your baby.  Some even hang baby from slings or hammocks and photograph them hanging from tree limbs or other objects.  Hobbyists, or others who claim to have experience in newborn photography, will see these images on popular sites and pin boards and try them.  Parents also see things and request these set ups.  All too willing to oblige, these photographers will agree to them having no idea the “behind the scenes” work required.  When done safely, baby is never more than an inch or two off of a soft surface, ideally parent’s hand is never off of baby.  A true professional has the knowledge and skills to use posing and photo editing techniques to ensure that these safety measures are always first priority. Same goes for baby in an unsafe position.  The popular chin-in-hands is an example of an unsafe position, but not an obvious one.  Just because you aren’t hanging and baby in the air doesn’t make a pose safe.  A newborn has so little muscle tone that if placed in a position it should not be in, its airway could become compromised or baby’s neck could be seriously injured.  This specific pose should never be less than two images digitally stitched together because an assistant or parent should always be supporting the baby’s head.  An amateur would not know this, nor would they have the posing or editing skills to pull off such a feat.  When performed by a photographer with proper training, this is incredibly safe and baby is usually content enough to sleep through it.



When I was assisting another photographer once, a 5 day old baby literally used his legs and lept into my waiting arms.  Had I not been right there ‘at the ready’ waiting for something to happen…I shudder to think.  The photographer had stepped away to make an adjustment or to grab another hat or prop *because* she knew I had training and experience and that was part of my job as an assistant.  Baby’s safety must come first.  Lots of things can happen.  An untrained person would have likely had no idea that this tiny baby would have been able to move so far so fast, but given the fact that I’d had experience and training I was very aware that they are capable of a lot and need to have hands on them ALL the time.  When I don’t have an assistant, which is most of the time, I use mama, or another helper if she isn’t able.


Older babies are no exception, they need spotters always.  The second they take a tumble off that cute little tree stump not only are they needlessly injured, that session is over!  A crying baby is not going to settle if what is making her cry was an easily preventable injury!  And those railroad track pictures that everyone seems to have?  Not only is it incredibly dangerous but it is also a crime.  Its more than trespassing and while you may not go to jail, your photographer’s equipment will be confiscated at the very least.  These are things that the ‘pinterest addict with a brand new camera” is not going to know.




So how do you know an amateur from a real professional photographer?  How do you know when you are going to end up with more cost than you bargained for, in terms of cost in safety and lost memories?

A few things to look for might be:

-more than just relatives in their portfolio

-a wide and varied portfolio with more than just a few correctly exposed and focused images

-they have a website


-are legal (pay taxes) and are insured

-a member of professional organizations such as PPA (Professional Photographers of America)

-don’t use words like ‘affordable’ or ‘decently’ priced in the description of their services.  If they have something of value, they don’t need to devalue it by talking about what a bargain it is.

-don’t give away the farm.  A true professional works incredibly hard to produce images you’ll cherish.  When broken down we average about minimum wage when taxes, insurance, overhead, products, times spent away from our families (driving, shooting, marketing, blogging, editing, education, etc) are included so why on earth would anyone be willing to halt any further sale beyond the session fee?  Unless that’s as far as their services go.  If they are of the shoot-and-burn variety, chances are the CD is not the only thing getting burned.


Please remember that custom portraits are a luxury and something to be saved and planned for.  The results will be timeless pieces of art instead of trendy snapshots at best.


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