I love family pictures. And I love Christmas cards! So, with Christmas coming up and family picture season upon us, I’d like to share some things to consider when choosing a family photographer, because I want you to get amazing family photos! A great photographer can make your family look amazing. As an artist, I have a sense of what makes a great photograph, and what to look for in a family photographer.
The cost of family photos: DIY, hire a friend, or pay for a professional?
I’m going to go ahead and address cost first. Everyone loves a great deal, and you don’t want to spend a fortune for some family pictures. But, you also want to weary about those “too good to be true” prices, because, they probably are.
While you can always DIY family portraits with your point and shoot camera and a tripod and timer for no cost at all, it will likely not look so great, considering you are not a professional photographer, aren’t using a great camera and don’t know how to set up the shoot for optimal lighting and composition. Your camera will be limited in its size and quality abilities. If you want your family picture to be printed on a Christmas card, the quality needs to be good enough to print, so, don’t try to use those camera phones to DIY. So, while you may get everyone in the shot, DIY may not be the best idea for a great family photo.
The next option you have is hiring a family friend as your photographer. This is a route that many choose when trying to save money on portraits. Some friends will even do it for free in exchange for the opportunity to build their portfolio and experience (or will do it for a night of babysitting, or other exchange). However, your friend is likely an untested, non-professional photographer, which means you may not be getting the best pictures. While it may work out amazingly, you run the risk of things getting a bit awkward with your friend if you really don’t like the pictures (know your friend and their sensitivity to such things: will they be completely offended if you don’t like the shots and decide to get a different photographer or if you want to take photos again? You don’t want to damage a friendship over family pictures!). If you don’t like the pictures, the good news is you spent little or nothing, and can always hit up someone else to try.
Another option, something I’ve done several times, is buying a deal from sites like Groupon (get 3% cash back from ShopAtHome.com) or Livingsocial (get 3% cash back from ShopAtHome.com) or Deal Chicken (get 7.5% cash back from ebates) or Amazon Local (get 3% cash back from ebates.com). Target Studios, Picture People, Sears Portrait, JCPenney Portrait, and other national studios regularly offer package deals on these sites. There are also many local photographers who offer on-location shoots and deals through them as well. You can get a picture package for a killer deal, especially when you combine it with ShopAtHome.com or ebates.com’s cash back!
You can also always try checking sites like craigslist.org for photography services and local photographers to save some money.
But, if you don’t care about saving money or getting a deal, ask your friends for photographer recommendations or do a google search for photographers in your area.
Are they a good photographer?
Isn’t that the question? While everyone has different opinions and style preferences, there are some basic things to look for in your photographer. I will try to explain them.
First, I would recommend never hiring someone, even a friend, without looking at their portfolio first. While portfolio’s only showcase a photographer’s best work, if their best isn’t very good, you can safely bet they won’t be taking amazing photos of you and your family, and you should think about hiring someone else. Looking at their portfolio will also give you a inclination as to their creative vision and methods. So, if you don’t like their style, their compositions, their backdrops, or whatever, then don’t choose them. Also, if they are mostly a landscape, animal, food, or still-life photographer, even if a great one, it won’t mean they’ll be great at family portraiture as well.
If you are hiring a photographer for an outdoor photo shoot, I’d make sure they know how to take photos outdoors. Looking at their outdoor portfolio pictures, check for the following warning signs of a poor photographer: weird shadows on clothing or faces (like from a tree’s leaf shadows), harsh shadows from being in direct sunlight, dominating backgrounds, bright backgrounds sunspots, tree branches/trunks look like they are growing out of someone’s head, squinty eyes, and contrasting colors.
Next, look at how the people are composed. Indoor or outdoor, the composition of the photos makes a huge difference in how cute your family pictures turn out. So, again, look for the following warning signs of a bad photographer: over posed pictures, hands or arms everywhere (think claw hands), awkward looking, large spacing and gaps between family members, one person sticking out more than another, heads all at vastly different levels, people’s arms/limbs cropped at the edges of the photo, looks unnatural, off centered, on a tilt, and too much negative space.
And most importantly, if a photographer’s pictures are dark, poorly lighted, over-photoshopped, blurry, out of focus, and/or poorly composed, then think about going with someone else. Even though someone has a very nice, very expensive camera, it does not mean they know how to use it, how to compose, how to light, or how to edit. A good camera does not a good photographer make! Don’t be fooled by the equipment.
Friendliness and Customer Service
You are taking family pictures, do, friendliness can be a big deal. The best family photographers know how to cheer up that crabby child, get everyone’s eyes to the camera, and hopefully a smile from all, at the same time, too. So, if your photographer is not used to taking pictures of little kids, grandparents, or groups, be wary. If they are introverted, unprofessional, lazy, tired, or not fully invested in your family photography session, chances are they won’t capture your beautiful family perfectly.
And how is their customer service? If at all possible, try to find reviews (not from their website) on your potential photographer. Are they willing to make special arrangements? Are they good about handling unhappy clients? Do they do their best to make the costumer happy? Do they take their time with clients, make them feel comfortable, happy, and at ease, or do they treat photography strictly as a business and push you through. Are they pushy sales people? All things to consider, though it can be hard knowing these beforehand.
Prints or Digital Images?
Some photographers and studios only offer portrait packages consisting of a set number of prints, sometimes of only one pose (i.e. no individual shots of you or your child), and charge extra for anything above and beyond the package deal. The advantage of having your photographer print your images is they are be printed on high quality paper at a professional lab. The print quality will be much better than your local Target or Wal-mart’s 1 Hour Photo (the correct colors at the correct saturation and detail levels). Plus, if you are unhappy with a print, good photographers and labs will definitely work to get it right.
Getting professional printed photographs is important. Though we live in a digital age, it is still important to have printed photographs to hang on your walls, to add to baby books, to send to relatives, to be able to physically hold and look at in the future. There’s also no need to worry about your hard-drive crashing. But, most prints cannot legally be scanned or otherwise shared digitally, because you are not given the artistic rights to do so. This can be frustrating since we are living in a digital over-sharing world.
Some photographers or studios provide you with digital images via an online viewing gallery (which you can download from), attached files in an email, or on a CD/DVD. Usually, when images are given to you, they come with a release from the photographer, which essentially allows you to share the images with others without a watermark, and make unlimited prints. However, you need to know the quality of the digital images you will be receiving! Some photographers/studios might only be giving you “web-only” images, or 72 dpi photos, instead of the standard high resolution 300 dpi. The low resolution is fine for Facebook, but not fine for printing pictures from. They will look pixelated if printed bigger than say a 4″x6.” Low resolution photos simply cannot be “blown up” and look good. Also, know what size the images will be – Will they be big enough and high resolution enough to print an 11″x13″ or only an 8″x10″?
I like getting digital images. We live in a digital age, and it is easy and fun to share pictures with others when you have the rights to the digital images from your photo shoot. I like having the digital images so I can use the photos on Christmas cards that I order and “print” myself (a portrait studio can print the cards with multiple images for you otherwise, but usually at a higher cost than can be found online). I am a frugal bargain hunter and like personalized Christmas cards, so I like being able to select where I buy my Christmas cards and what they look like.
I think the best way to get family pictures is a little of both – print and digital – especially since photographers generally charge a lot for their rights to be released via digital images/CDs. If I am limited in the package deal to only 1 image on a CD (like when we’ve gone to Sears or JCPenney), then I generally choose the family group shot as my one image, and get prints of the individual shots.
What things do you consider when choosing a family photographer? Did I miss something? What kind of photography packages do you like to buy?
*Disclosure* My affiliate links are used above.
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