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We’ve all seen it, or we’ve posted ourselves: “ISO inexpensive/cheap/affordable family photographer for amazing photoshoot of our cute family.” To be perfectly candid, (and I may get myself into a little hot water for this) my fellow photographers complain about this all the time on photography support groups, and it’s quite frankly cringe worthy to me too. Aside from the obvious cost of running a business, editing programs, marketing costs, and use of our time, there is an even more important reason cost shouldn’t be your deciding factor; you’re hiring an artist to create personal art for you.
I would implore you to think about why you’re looking for a photographer to take photos for you rather than say booking an affordable session at Sears or JC Penny? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to disparage what the department store photographers create. They take photos that are technically correct, use props and poses that are on trend, and provide many affordable options including on location outdoor shoots.
I get it, it’s really confusing to navigate through different photographers that all charge different prices with different options. The market is saturated with so many choices that it should be easy to get a good deal. I also get that we all have a budget and we want value for our hard earned money. I have to say it though, it really isn’t all about the money in this case. I spent years in college learning about art, creating art, exhibiting my artwork, and having my work critiqued. I also spent many years after receiving my Masters in Education teaching art, creating art, and guiding budding artists. I am confident that I know how to make a visually appealing work of art. I think the major disconnect between photographers and their clients is that photography IS an art form! It’s hard to think of it that way because it’s so accessible, everyone can theoretically be a photographer with the click of a button. It technically appears as though it’s effortless, without the requirement to ‘create’ art as we think of it. The camera however, is just a tool like a paintbrush. How we use it determines how effective it is at creating our work, and there are damn good artists out there that are photographers.
When the camera was invented, it was seen as a tool of documentation. It was not initially considered an acceptable form of art until artists started using the elements and principles of art and applying it to their photographs. In 1948 Phillipe Halsman collaborated with Salvador Dali to create this portrait of the artist Dali.
I don’t think anyone can argue that this isn’t a work of art. It took Halsman 27 tries, (without photoshop) to take this portrait. The cats were thrown, the water was splashed in just the right way, the chair and paintings were suspended from the ceiling with invisible wire. Halsman did this until he got the composition, movement, and expression that he wanted to achieve. Photography has come a long way, and the shift in how we photograph our families has become more personal, more creative, more about connection than just a photo. Photographers, however many there are out there, are trying to create art of and for your family. I think that takes more consideration than just ‘ISO cheap photographer’. So you might be asking ‘what should I look for then?’ I get that it’s confusing, but here’s what I would do:
Try and get as specific as possible about what you want.
If you want standard portraits indoors, ask about an amazing photographer that does indoor studio portraits. If you want outdoor photos that are more traditional (with all faces looking at the photographer) ask for that. If you want less traditional photos that capture your families connection, ask for a photographer that uses emotive photography. If you want someone to document your families everyday life through an activity ask for a lifestyle or documentary photographer. I guarantee that you will get all sorts of photographer in various price points with each request.
Recognize that often the cheaper you go, the less established and seasoned the photographer is.
This is not always but often the case. Over time photographers build their portfolio, grow as artists, and work at perfecting their craft. If your photographer has not been around long the chances are that they’re charging a little less and are just getting their feet wet. This DOES NOT mean that they’re bad or ill equipped to do an amazing job, it just means that they may be inconsistent with the product that you’ll get. I would find a photographer that you LOVE first, and then if they’re not at your price point I would try and find one that has a similar style. To give a clear example of what I mean check out the two pics below. The first is from one of my first session, and the second is the most recent one that I photographed. I’ve learned thing or two and it really shows.
Take the time to get to know your photographer.
Who your photographer is and how seriously they take their job is important. So many photographers are ‘mom togs’ (moms who became photographers after they had kids). Some of them are incredibly talented and amazing artists, and others have picked up this hobby-gone-profession out of convenience. Search their websites and check out the ‘about me’ section to see what their background is and where they came from. I can more often than not know which photographers have an arts related background just by seeing their portfolio, and if they don’t they have dedicated their time to the craft. What it really comes down to though is if you like their work.
Don’t blindly trust the mom groups you’re asking recommendations from!
Those same groups you post ‘ISO cheap photographer’ in also give you about a million suggestions of photographers that they know….and often they recommend them because the photographer is their friend, and/or just starting out. I know this because MY friends did this for me and I love them for it, but it shouldn’t determine your choice, it should just give you some options to check out. Look through their websites, check out their instagram grid, stalk them on facebook and THEN decide what you think.
Chana Grossman of Carrot Seed Photography is a natural light, emotive, lifestyle photographer located in Oceanside, New York and services the greater New York Area. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her Facebook/Instagram @carrotseedphotography for more information or to inquire about booking a session.