Here’s the thing, most people don’t know the options that are available when it comes to hiring a family or newborn photographer. They see a pretty family portrait their friend posts on Facebook and decide to hire that photographer for themselves. Which is totally cool, except your friend’s needs might be totally different than yours! There are different photography styles, service levels (some photographers leave it up to you and others take care of everything down to the last detail), and purchasing processes. This article will help you discover exactly what you should be looking for to find that perfect family portrait photographer for you.
What Style of Photography are you drawn to?
POSED NEWBORN SESSIONS:
Typically done in the studio or sometimes in the home, posed newborn sessions involve artistically posing the baby in the very first few weeks (or days) of life. This is when you get those beautiful photographs of the baby in a basket, swaddled in a blanket, or on a seamless fabric background. These sessions tend to be on the long side (3-4 hours) because the photographer has to wait for the baby to settle and go to sleep for most of the poses.
LIFESTYLE NEWBORN & FAMILY SESSIONS IN THE HOME:
If you like those super-casual natural light family photos where everyone is sitting on the bed cuddling with their kids, lifestyle sessions are for you. They take place in the home, typically involve a bit of wardrobe guidance and styling, and aim to capture a relaxed and natural family vibe in the images. Babies can be a little older for the session, and they suit toddlers and older kids quite well. It’s all about convenience and portraying the home-life of the family.
DOCUMENTARY FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHY:
The photographer will come to your home and document your family as you are. Sometimes this takes a few hours, and sometimes the photographer spends the whole day with the family. Unlike lifestyle sessions, documentary photographers tend to not style the family at all. Some go as far as to not change anything in the scene (like turning on lights, moving objects out of the way, etc). These images are as close to real life as you can get.
STYLED OUTDOOR SESSIONS:
If you absolutely adore a gorgeous outdoor portrait where everyone is wearing pretty flowing dresses, sitting on a couch in a field, or cuddling in a handmade play tent, this is the style for you. The focus is entirely on creating a magical setting, styling the family in specially-bought outfits, and capturing a beautiful portrait during the golden hour. There are props, and the scene is usually created entirely by the photographer. These sessions require a bit more upfront planning, location scouting, and styling.
These can range from traditional posed portraits to more natural-looking images, depending on the style and skill of the photographer. Studio portraits are convenient because parents don’t have to worry about outdoor elements or time of day. They often utilize artificial light to create a cleaner image and a very distinct look. These portraits tend to be fairly simple and focus on expression and the person in front of the camera. Studio photographers tend to be more expensive because their costs are higher, but the level of service is also usually more thorough, with a bigger focus on finished products in the end.
* It’s also important to consider whether you want color or black and white images (or both). Some photographers excel at black and white work, while others focus on color photography. These styles are not interchangeable and often a photographer will specialize in one or the other.
What photography products do you want?
Think about what you want to do with the photos. If you’re looking for an image for your holiday card, you will probably need a digital version of that photo (some photographers don’t sell digitals at all, so make sure to check), or a photographer who provides already-made holiday cards for you to purchase.
If you want to create a wall gallery, you’ll want someone who specializes in frames and printed products. If you want an album to go with your wedding coffee table book, you’ll need a photographer who can provide that for you. It’s a mistake to hire someone just for their image style if they won’t be able to finish the process with a product that suits your needs. And, if you think you’ll be able to put that photo album together yourself while working a full time job and caring for two children, you probably won’t (it’s not your fault, there’s just a lot going on!).
In order to get the most return on your investment, my suggestion is always to walk away with the finished item in hand (even if that means taking the time to order prints from your digital images), otherwise all those photographs will likely sit on your computer without realizing their full potential.
How much retouching do you want?
This seems like a weird thing to consider when picking a photographer, but here’s why it’s important. Cameras today capture every single pore, eyelash, and stray hair. Newborns tend to have blotchy and red skin, which makes retouching a necessity. Retouching can whiten teeth, reduce postpartum hair loss, and get rid of under-eye circles completely.
But it also costs more because the photographer needs to take a significant amount of time to retouch each photograph. For some photography styles, like documentary, it’s not at all crucial to have retouched photographs (you probably picked this style specifically for its realism). For portraits and newborns, it’s a lot more important.
Decide what you’re comfortable with (sometimes retouching can definitely go too far) and make sure your photographer can provide the level of polish you’re looking for.
Which delivery method is best for you?
Online galleries are really popular nowadays. The other option is to meet with the photographer in person after the photo session to review all the final images. There are benefits and downsides to both.
Online galleries allow you to review the images on your own time and you can often share your gallery with family and friends. But there’s also nobody to help you through the selection process. Online galleries can work really well if the photographer’s fee includes all the digital images, but they can still become overwhelming if you’re trying to decide which prints to order. There’s usually no reference point for print sizes and you can’t see products in person (or will have to remember what they looked like if you did see them previously) to know what you’re actually buying.
In-person ordering appointments allow the photographer to help you through the process. They take less time overall because you have to make the decision during the meeting. You can usually see the print sizes, frames, or albums you’re purchasing in person before you make your decision. The downside is that some clients feel uncomfortable committing to a decision right then and there, and might be worried of encountering a hard-sell tactic from the photographer.
How flexible is your budget?
If your budget is set in stone, you won’t have much leeway when deciding on products. That’s important to consider when deciding which photographer to hire.
Some photographers include all the digital images in their fee, while others will take a smaller fee up front and offer image purchasing options after the session. If your budget is flexible, going with the latter is more beneficial because you know exactly what you’re buying (you choose the images you want and the products you’re interested in). But this is also where a flexible budget becomes important, because you don’t exactly know what you’re going to spend until you see your photographs.
All-inclusive sessions are great if you have a fixed budget. You know exactly what you’re paying for the photography service, and once you have the digital images, you can order prints and photo books on your own at a later time (ideally, that is). The downside is that you don’t see your images until after you’ve paid for them, so it becomes really important to find a photographer with a high skill level who can deliver a consistent result.
If this is your first time hiring a family photographer, there are a few more things you should consider before you go ahead.
Make sure the photographer you selected is responsive via email or when you call them.
Go over all the pricing information on the phone or in person to make sure you understand it all clearly. And if your photographer won’t give you all the details before your session, that is a big red flag.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions like “Do you retouch the photographs?” and “What happens if my child gets sick the morning of the session?”.
Make sure you understand the fees and policies the photographer has in place for things like rescheduling and ordering your photos.
And finally, go with your gut! If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hire that person to take your family photos. Hire the photographer who you really hit it off with, who made you feel listened to and relaxed about the whole experience.