So, you’ve decided that you want to get professional family photos taken. Hooray! There’s nothing like being able to decorate your house (and your holiday card) with new, shiny pictures—not to mention the joy they’ll bring your future-self when you look at them years from now.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been busy pinning inspiring photos of beautiful families, in beautiful clothes, in front of beautiful sunsets. Maybe you can even imagine your own family, laughing effortlessly and looking all stock photo-y, like one of those families that come with the frame. I’m right there with you.
So, how do you make sure you pick the right photographer—the one that can deliver exactly what you have in mind?
Have no fear. Here are a few tips to help you get started on your search, narrow down the list, and find the best match for your family photos.
Ok, let’s dive in!
1. What are you looking for?
Before you start Googling photographers, spend some time thinking about what you want to get out of your session. There are a ton of choices out there, and having your priorities top of mind can make it easier to narrow down your options.
Here are a few things to think about:
- What do you plan to do with your photos?
Maybe you know you want a large print of a posed family portrait framed above your fireplace. The photographer you’d choose for that photo may be very different than the one you’d choose if you wanted a bunch of un-posed, lifestyle images that you can use to create a photo book.
- Posed or lifestyle?
Some photographers specialize in only posed portraits, or only lifestyle photos, while others combine both into a single session. Then, there are those who shoot both types of photos, but will schedule your session differently (in terms of time and location), depending on what you’re looking for. You may find that photographers brand themselves as either ‘portrait’ or ‘lifestyle,’ or you may need to look at their portfolio in order to tell what type of photos they take.
- On-location or in a studio?
If you already know that you want your photo session to take place in your house, or you’re positive you want it to happen at a park your family loves, you’ll want to find a photographer that shoots on-location, and is willing to travel to the spot you’re considering. Likewise, if you know you want indoor portraits that are more formal, consider hiring someone who has access to a studio.
Once you decide on a photographer, don’t be shy! Tell them exactly what you want—it’ll help them to make sure they can deliver on it.
2. Where to find photographers
- Search engines
There are the more obvious search engines like Google & Bing, but don’t forget about social media sites like Facebook & Pinterest. Facebook search has become pretty robust—and most photographers have a Facebook page where you can see their recent work. Or, try searching Pinterest for your location + “photographer,” and browse through options visually, to find someone with a style you like.
Know someone in your area who has gotten beautiful photos taken of their own family? Reach out and ask them who they hired! Not only can you feel more secure knowing they’re recommended, but a lot of photographers offer bonuses or discounts when you’re part of a referral. And, if no one comes to mind, you could try posting a status update, asking if anyone can recommend a local photographer.
- Professional organizations
Some photography organizations provide lists of qualified pros who’ve been vetted before being accepted. Professional Photographers of America’s Find-a-Photographer search engine and Clickin Moms’ CMPro Directory both let you to search by location, name and specialty.
3. What to look for in their work
A photographer who’s charging for their work should consistently create excellent photos that are similar to each other in style. Most photographers either have a website or a Facebook page, so take some time to browse their portfolio. Ideally, their portfolio will include lots of different families, in different settings, to show that the quality of their work is consistent.
There are a lot of things to consider when evaluating a photographer’s portfolio for quality, and some may be more important to you than others.
A few things to take into consideration:
- Photos should be properly exposed—not too dark or too bright.
- The subject of each photo should be in focus.
- Editing shouldn’t be overdone (colors look realistic, skin not overly smooth, etc).
- People should seem at ease, and groups of people should look comfortable together.
4. Is it a good match?
Remember the questions you asked yourself in tip #1? You can use that info as a filter to double-check that the photographer’s work matches your vision.
For instance, if you decided that you want a posed portrait in a studio, and the photographer you found shows only lifestyle sessions outdoors, it may not be a good match. Likewise, make sure you really like the style of the photos—the posing, the composition, the editing. If their work is consistent, you should expect that your session will turn out similar to their other work, so make sure you like it!
Availability is another factor to think about. Is your shoot time-sensitive? For instance, if you envision your family surrounded by fall leaves, but winter is quickly approaching, you’ll need to take your photographer’s availability into consideration.
5. Pricing and products
In most markets, the average rate for family portraits by a professional photographer is between $300-500 per hour, with a typical photo session lasting 1 hour.
However, the cost of hiring a professional can range anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars, and can vary significantly depending on where you live and the competition in your area.
In addition to knowing the cost, make sure you understand exactly what you’re paying for, and what you’ll be receiving.
A few questions to ask:
- How many photos will I see of the session?
Just like with cost, this can vary greatly, but the average photographer will present a gallery of 25-40 images after a 1-hour session. You probably won’t see all the frames they take during a session, since many photographers see it as part of their job to narrow down the photos, and only show the very best shots.
- What’s included in the price?
There are a lot of different ways a photographer can set up their business. They may charge a sitting fee (or a session fee), which includes the photographer’s time and talent, but no files or products. Or, they may offer the session and all the digital files for one, all-inclusive price. Some even offer several packages with different combinations of products and/or files. One is not better than another, you just have to make sure you’re happy with what they’re offering, and have a clear understanding of what to expect.
- Will I receive the digital files?
If having the digital files from your session is important to you, then there are some details that you’ll definitely want to understand up front. Does the photographer offer digital files to the client? If so, are they included in the price? And if they’re extra, how much will they cost? Will you get a print release? Some photographers will give you a print release that allows you to print the photos anywhere you want, while others will restrict you to a certain printer, or even to web-use only.
6. Sign a contract
Any professional photographer should have you sign a contract that outlines the terms of your session and what you’ll receive. Not only will this ensure that you’re both on the same page in terms of all the details, but it will protect both of you in the event that something goes wrong.
Phew! Did I miss anything? If so, let me know in the comments.
Good luck and have fun!