Many people balk at the prices professional photographers charge for session fees. Allow me to help you understand why this is so valuable for your preserving your memories.
Whether you use the person around the corner with their first DLSR and two Ikea lights or your local big box store working with a dedicated camera and lighting system or the person with the pro-level DSLR and high-powered strobe lights in home or their studio, there is always a cost. Normally, you are required to pay a “session” or “sit” fee. If you would like to order prints or digital images, there is a fee for that. Some photographers may give you low-resolution images for your Facebook page, but if you want the high quality, print-ready portraits, you have to pay for that.
What exactly are you paying for? Essentially, you are paying for your photographer’s skill, expertise, equipment use and time. While you may assume that the time ends after your hour or two has finished in front of the camera, this is just the beginning for your photographer. Many professional photographers have invested thousands of dollars in equipment that is built to survive the rigours of daily use and constant handling, backgrounds that look just as good after five years as they did when new and countless hours of training, research and development.
No matter who is taking your portraits, the next few steps are what truly set your photographers apart. The entry-level photographer may convert a few of your photographs to black and white, create one or two sepia toned, crop some of the portraits and let you proof them on Facebook. Box store studios will have an elaborate computer-based proofing/selling system where you can see every image in colour and black and white. Professional photographers, whether in studio or in your home, may either upload your proofs to their secure online proofing system or work with you to set a convenient appointment time and present proofs electronically on their laptop or tablet.
Proofing is not the last time your images will be handled and manipulated by your photographer. The entry-level photographer may just print exactly what you saw in the proofs or they make adjustments you have requested. The big box store photographers have an entire system at their end in which your photos will be automatically processed and then printed, but photo manipulation is rarely available. The professional photographer will literally spend hours tweaking and retouching your images so that each person shown is presented at their absolute best. This involves, but is not limited to, blending multiple frames so each face looks the best, removing distracting elements, enhancing colours and applying their artistic touches to each final image. Many photographers will do all of this before the proof stage, leaving you to marvel at the beauty of your portraits.
As in practically every case, you get what you pay for. Your friend who just started out with their new camera brings great enthusiasm, but a limited tool set as far as posing and finishing. You generally pay little or no session fee and you may get a few prints that make you say “Wow!” The box studio photographer has more training with comfortable and flattering posing, a varied selection of props, more flattering lighting and the instant gratification of immediate proofing. The purchase experience may feel rushed and you may feel pressured to buy more than you had planned. The backgrounds may change but the lighting remains the same – sometimes leaving you feeling like they have just shown you the same photo but with a different background. The professional photographer, with their complete toolset of comfortable posing, ingenious and flexible lighting styles and refined editing skills will present a variety of images that will make your buying decision difficult due to your desire to have a copy of each print to hang on your wall.
Whom you choose to preserve your family memories in portraits is always your choice. You should never feel pressured or obligated to choose your photographer. Nevertheless, you should make your decision based upon what you want to receive and what you can realistically expect to receive. After all, it’s your walls that these portraits hang on. A professional photographer will put as much care into your portraits as they would their own portraits.
© Will Prentice, 2012. All rights reserved.
Will is owner and chief photographer at Captura Photography and Imaging, a photography and design company in Whitby, Ontario, Canada. Click his picture in the upper right for more details.