Professional Family Photos Really? Why?

I mentioned to a friend we are having family photos done before we leave Sydney and that I was really excited to have some beautiful shots under the Jacaranda trees.  Her response was “Don’t those (professional family photos) make you feel weird.  I always feel so awkward and just don’t like them.”  My response was, “No, I love doing it and a good photographer shouldn’t make it awkward.”
I love photography.. a lot.  My minor in college was in art just so I could figure out how to photograph in black and white, and I’m a decent enough dabbler in photography.  But when I had kids I realized there was a whole different skill set that went with getting great shots of kids, and frankly I didn’t have it, and my husband, well he REALLY didn’t have it.  Often I’d JUST miss that perfect moment, or the shot was just a little off, or that oh so fast baby would suddenly move on me, and as she got older she’d give me a hammy grin instead of that beautiful natural smile I so loved when there was no camera in sight.   So I got the occasional cute photos but more and more it meant I was behind the camera and rarely in the picture.  I look back the entire first year of my daughter’s life and it’s almost like I’m a ghost.  I know I was there, but good luck finding me in many of the pictures, and year two is even worse since my husband was traveling that entire year so there was no one to take the photos but me.  Ironically despite the fact that I was the only one there I am the only one NOT in the pictures.  For that reason alone I’m really, really glad we made sure to regularly do family photos with a good professional photographer.  It meant that at 6 months, 1 year, 18 month or 2 years, 3 years and so on I had at least for sure 1 set of really good pictures with her looking like her true silly little self, with all of us in the photo or with at least me and her together in a photo. It made sure someone who’s an expert at getting a kid to smile naturally, or who can edit over the small stupid flaw that’s really distracting with a bit of photoshop skill was doing the job. Someone who knows what naturally looks good as a composition was taking the photos.   It let’s me look back and say man we have all changed so much, not “Oh if only we had been able to get x to actually look real it would have been great.”
But I’ll also be honest because I’ve shot enough photos I’m REALLY picky about good photography.  And I’m equally picky about making sure I know what I’m getting and what I’m paying for.  Often when you say professional photos people automatically think awkward 1980s style stare at the camera as a family shots in a studio with a fake background.  That’s NOT what I mean.  Yes you can get some beautiful shots in a studio, and there are some photographers who do an amazing job in a studio setting who are absolutely worth looking at.   But thankfully in the last 10 or so years there has been a massive rise in natural light photography which is more often than not done outside in a more natural day to day setting.  Personally the shots I’ve loved from our sessions aren’t usually the one where everyone is looking.  It’s  the ones where one kid is laughing, or no one’s actually even looking at the camera but you can see this is a real family in that moment. It’s the 1001 images in your head you capture as a memory but it’s set to film.
So how do I find that?  I start by ask for recommendations on places like IWMs and NSMs.  And I’ll be honest I look for recommendations first and foremost from people other than the photographer. Yes I’ll still look at a link provided by a photographer but I look first at the ones from people who’ve actually used this person.  I look at their websites and FB pages to see what their current work looks like and decide is this really the style I like.  Is it hammy, or over filtered, or too dark or grainy looking, is every picture overly similar (showing a lack of imagination/ingenuity on their part)?  If I don’t LOVE it I move on, because no matter how cheap the price if I don’t really like what I see in their best examples on their website chances are I won’t in the real world either.  I’m pretty harsh, if I see more than 2 pictures on their site that I’m meh about I move on.  Again it says to me that this is probably more their norm than I want, if this is their best stuff then I may not be impressed by their more average work.  After I get a good feel for them I look for pricing on their page.  Hopefully they have taken the time to clearly lay it out.  Some unfortunately don’t, then I look at it and say is it worth my time and theirs to ask,  if I’m on the fence about them, nope I just don’t bother honestly.  If they look really interesting I’ll email for details.
Personally I won’t consider a photographer who won’t give me full rights to my digital negatives.  Meaning I get any final photos they present to me in digital form and I’m given full printing rights and full FB rights to them.  That way I can make photobooks, get prints or canvases, or get a photo mug for the grandparents or just share them but it’s my call not someone who’s charging me $100-100o for each individual thing.  Yes asking for full digital rights means I will likely pay more but it also means I don’t have to stress about the “potential costs” of what started out as a $100 sitting fee but now I’m essentially held hostage for beautiful shots.
Often I know it’s tempting to say well this person is JUST 50-100 bucks.  But stop and ask, are they giving you the photos you want or just teasing you with them?  If that’s their total price are they going to edit the photos at all to fix little details that would make them better?  Do you REALLY like their work or do you just like their price?  If you are only kinda ok with their work is the money you are saving on that oh so cheap price really worth not getting someone who’s really good at the job?  I’ve used budding photographers who yes were cheap at the time and were amazing, who had that natural nack and I just got lucky they were still new to it and thus cheap. I’ve also used some who were terribly awkward for that same exact reason. If they can’t set you at ease chances are the pictures will reflect that.  Photographers aren’t cheap because their cameras are expensive, their equipment is expensive, their software is expensive, and because they are trying to feed their families on the money they earn from their work.  Most good photographers will spend 3-5 hours editing a session that took 1 hour to shoot and another 30 minutes to hour consulting with you when you are booking to discuss ideas via email or phone etc.  So when you look at the price and think, “That’s so expensive/cheap etc.” Ask yourself would I put in 4-7 hours of work for this price and could I run a successful business on it?  A great deal is only a great deal when you’re happy with the end result/products you receive.  You can find amazing photographers in all price ranges just make sure you are doing your due dilligence before being hooked or scared away by the price tag.
But regardless get out and get some pictures of those babies and kids as we all know they grow up way to quickly and you shouldn’t be the ghost behind the camera documenting it all.
Also by Amber:
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Having Babies on Two Continents
The Great Ocean Road and Kids…Why I Hate Car Trips…

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  • Amber Emken
    25/11/2015 at 7:00 am

    Photo credit on image above goes to the amazing Pavement Photography in Sydney!

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