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As the seasons of Chanukah and Christmas start approaching, a lot of families are shifting their time and attention to one of the next anxiety-inducing struggles. No, dear friend, not what to pick out as the gifts or what to cook for Thanksgiving or how Uncle Eddie takes his coffee… I’m talking about the big one. The one that will go on mantelpieces or bookshelves the country over. The struggle over how to choose a family photographer is real!
Reading through my 7,000 Facebook groups (a high estimate, most likely), it’s easy to see how people can feel overwhelmed! Most people are looking for good quality, timely delivery, and low cost… but, how on earth do you choose a family photographer who meets all of those criteria?
We’ve had our share of family photographers, and we are so lucky that we’ve found our go to (more on Janica Boles who runs the show at JBO Photo later!)… but finding her took some work and finesse. It took a little trial and error. And as family photo season approaches, here are some tips and tricks that I can share to help you choose your family photographer.
7 Tips for Choosing a Family Photographer
Start with referrals!
Here’s something that those 7,000 Facebook groups get right: someone who’s frustrated and stressed seeks out the referral and advice from their friends. Why does this work out so well? Well, in all likelihood, you find another mother (like me!) who’s gone through a series of photographers and found one who delivers a finished product that they like.
The good thing is that a friend isn’t going to hold back on why they’re making their family photographer referral. They’re going to tell you if they were happy not only with the finished product but also if they were happy with the way the photographer interacted with their family. They’re going to tell you if they under promised and over delivered (or vice versa!). They’re going to be honest with you and give you an enthusiastic Yes! I would absolutely use them again! or Well… at least the price was nothing to sneeze at.
But at the end of the day, your friend is only making a recommendation. Your friend’s style may be totally different from yours. Your friend may love picture perfect poses by the fireplace whereas you want a more photojournalistic style. Which is why you’ll need to…
Do your research!
Every family photographer is different! Some specialize in portraits and others, more candid. You’ll want to look through their portfolios and see if their style jives with yours. Do they do a lot of posed newborn pictures? Are they capturing kids playing in the leaves at sunset? Do the pictures look more high fashion than high school? I can’t make that determination for you… only you can… after you do your research!
Don’t feel like you need to choose a family photographer just because your best friend likes them! They may have discerning tastes, but family photographs are deeply personal. These photographs should hopefully last for years to come, and you want to take the time to really see if that style is going to be something you want to traverse down memory lane with.
Doing your research can also involve looking through the family photographer’s portfolios and/or galleries. If you have a potential photographer, see if they’ll let you look through a recent client gallery. You may love what they post on Instagram, but their galleries are often a little more robust. What kinds of pictures are they posting there? Does the style fit with what you’re looking for? These are some important considerations!
Get to know them!
After you have your referrals and you have some stylistic ideas, you’ll also want to get to know your family photographer. Some people will start by reading the photographer’s website biographies, see who they are on social media and poke around. These initial feelers can give you a quick sense of who this person is and whether they’re going to mesh with you and yours.
However, I cannot overstate the importance of actually communicating with them! They may sound good on paper or over text, but there’s something to be said about whether y’all click in person. Janica, our family photographer, has a wonderful personality, and she so many delightful qualities that I like in her as a person… and that translates so well into our ease around each other. Plus, my kids like her so I guess we’re stuck with her!
But in all seriousness, if you can’t feel that connection with the family photographer you’re interviewing, it’s alright to cut bait. You don’t have to stick with that photographer just because they came highly recommended and their portfolio is high-fashion worthy. If something feels off and your personalities don’t mesh well, that discomfort and unease are going to translate into the pictures… so if you need it, you have my permission to move onto another photographer.
Budgeting your money
At this point, you have a couple of referrals, you’ve seen some style you like, you have a couple of family photographers in the bullpen… and you’re working through choosing who you want to go with! One other facet that will need strong consideration is the cost. Over and over again, I see Who can recommend a family photographer? immediately followed by Will they do it for $250 or less?
You should absolutely take your budget into consideration. After all, if you’re taking family pictures for holiday cards, the cost of the photographer is going to go into the budget, including ordering the cards, mailing the cards, having the spares for Janet in Accounting. And around the holidays, you also want to be mindful of all of the other things you may have to buy: gifts, cocktails, new clothes for Christmas parties, food, extra bottles of wine… holiday costs can really rack up!
However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when choosing your family photographer, especially when the cost comes into play, in part, because you may not see them at the outset! For just your package alone, you’ll be investing in their time to review and edit your pictures, to provide you with prints, to upload digital files for you to download, for the massive space they need for their websites to store high-resolution images… and a lot of these things you’ll need to discuss with your family photographer before you sign the contract.
One possible way to save on your family photographer may be to see if they have mini-sessions available. Rather than booking them for a full hour, maybe you can find an agreeable location and shoot for just 15-30 minutes. The trouble you may run into there, though, is if your kids are whiny and tantruming. That short window is your window, and your family photographer may be filling in the other full session gaps with other minis. There are gives and takes, and while your family photographer may love you like her own, she’s also running a business.
Read the contract. Then read it again.
In their businesses, most photographers have contracts that they send out to their clients to sign before they book the sessions. And while it may feel like another piece of frustrating paperwork, it’s really in everyone’s best interest to review their contract with their family photographer several times.
In part, the contract will cover pricing, ownership, distribution, cancellation, etc. Some of it doesn’t make sense? Talk to them about it.
We’ve seen enough stories that, if there isn’t clarity around the terms of the contract, bad things can happen. So I would strongly encourage you to take the time to read the contract with your family photographer and make sure you understand exactly what everyone’s obligations are.
Make sure you trust them.
By this point, you’ve probably gone through a whole mess of rigamarole to find the family photographer of your dreams. You’ve researched. You’ve stalked. You’ve texted. You’ve talked.
And hopefully, this is someone you trust!
By now, you’ve gotten to know them, and you each know each other’s style and preferences. You each have a vision for how your family photos are going to turn out… and you have to turn it over to them. They know that, if you’re pleased, you’ll refer your friends and loved ones to them, so it’s in everyone’s best interest for everyone to come away happy.
Stick with them!
Janica has been our family photographer for over 3 years now, and I honestly can’t imagine anyone else documenting our family as we grow. If/when she decides to retire or move away, I’ll probably have a mini-anxiety attack. In her own special way, Janica is helping to weave the fabric of our family tapestry, and that’s really important for us! We’re lucky that we can call her friend. We’re lucky that my kids love her (although I’m so hard-pressed to see how anyone doesn’t like her). We’re lucky that we have this connection with her, and that connection only strengthens and deepens each 30-minute shoot at a time.
And, in a weird way, that’s what I hope you can find for you and yours with your family photographer! I hope that you’re able to find someone that can help catpture your family in all their wonder and glory… and you can look back through those pictures with fond memories.
Do you have other tips for choosing a family photographer? Weigh in below!