These days everyone with the digital camera claims to be a photographer but if you’re in the market for professional portraits how do you know where to go; who is the right photographer for you? Yes, a hundred dollars for a CD of all your images sounds like a great deal but if you hate all of the images then you’ve just wasted a hundred dollars.
Owning a professional camera is just the first step; it does not make you an expert. If I own a stethoscope it certainly doesn’t make me a doctor.
I am an expert in portrait photography and the owner of Gallery Portraiture, a boutique portrait studio. My bachelor of fine arts was acquired from Syracuse University and I spent two years studying technical lighting at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. I have been practicing my craft for over 25 years.
Our phone rings all the time and we keep hearing the same question, “Can you tell me your prices?” While price certainly is an important deciding factor, there are more questions you need to ask in order to find the right photographer.
Before calling, visit photographer’s websites to view their work and style. You should ask about equipment, lighting, technique, experience, education, professional awards, and memberships to Associations like Professional Photographers of America (PPA) or your local Chamber of Commerce. If you have children then their experience working with young children and infants or high school seniors would also be important information. Ask for referrals or find reviews. There are many things that can differentiate an amateur photographer from a professional who will give you the quality and results you looking for.
Session fees are common practice in the industry. Do not let them scare you. A session fee simply secures your time with the photographer. It covers the photographer’s time, talent and assistant, if needed. It also tells the photographer you’re serious about your commitment to want their services and ensures that you will keep your appointment. Now you’re still asking yourself why a session fee is required. I’ll put it in these terms. When you schedule with your hairdresser the hairdressers investment is of course their time and their equipment. A photographer has the same investments, time and equipment. But the difference is a good pair of scissors may cost around $300 but a professional camera alone can cost as much as a new car.
Before your search, make a few decisions: Do you want studio portraits or location portraits? Studio portraits offer a variety of backgrounds which can be very nice; whereas location portraits offer unlimited environments and even going to your favorite places. Weather can be a factor the day of your photographs for location portraits, so be prepared to reschedule if Mother Nature does not cooperate. If a specific location holds meaning for you it can make for memorable portraits. Find a photographer who is competent in lighting on location under any weather conditions.
Next consider how you will want to use and display your photographs. Most people consider an 8 x 10 as your standard however there are so many other options to consider. An 8 x 10 portrait looks lovely framed on a console table or shelf. Yet, if you’re looking at that blank wall in your living room an 8 x 10 may simply look like a postage stamp. You may want to consider going larger. Now if all of your wall space is already covered a book or album may be the right direction for you.
In this technology driven day and age, we can’t have this discussion without asking about digital files. Each individual photographer will have their own rules and opinions on the subject. Some may see it as an easy option to hand you a CD or flash drive and allow you to print yourself. But if you are looking for a print or long-lasting product those one hour labs may not offer you the quality that you are looking for. Yes you will save money however if that print fades quickly you will not be satisfied with the results. You also need to consider how quickly technology changes. A few years ago, you received your images on a floppy drive. How likely are you to be able to review them and enjoy them now?
A reputable photographer will normally use a professional photo lab. There are many in the industry that will provide wonderful quality products and prints which will far outlast your typical big-box store. As well as offer you products you will not be able to purchase at your local retailer.
Finally decide on a budget that you are comfortable with. You may also consider how often you desire professional portraits. Will this be an annual event or is this a special occasion? Are you purchasing for yourself or will you be purchasing gifts for others as well? A highly regarded studio may offer payment plans. The Professional Photographers of America, “PPA Business Handbook” estimates a photographers cost to produce a single 8×10 print averages $51. This cost estimates if each client only purchased a single 8×10 print. Of course this does not include any profit or compensation to the photographer. Keep this in mind when you are shopping. It will prepare you for the wide range of responses you will receive from each studio. The photographers who will remain in business for years to come understand what it takes to run a reputable business.
A family photographer can be like a friend for life. Someone who will help capture those milestones, create those special memories. Now that you are prepared, go and find the perfect fit.
Tracy L. Spisak