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How to choose your holiday photographer (and do it soon!)

Monday, September 27, 2010 Leave a Comment

Every December, we get dozens of holiday cards from our friends and family all over the country. The vast majority are pictures of adorable children, dressed in their Christmas best, sitting in front of the Christmas tree. Once I hang them up, I have no idea who's who.

My gay friends in San Francisco mentioned it to me the first year I sent out cards with my own adorable boy & dog.

"We love seeing your cute kid and dog," they said, "But really, we'd love to see you. Why don't you do a family picture?"

They're right. The holiday greetings are from my whole family, wouldn't I like to preserve the memories? In my own childhood pictures, my Mom is absent from most -- she was the one behind the camera.

So this year, we're getting our family portraits done. Soon. Like, the beginning of October to make sure we can get Christmas cards in time - and most photographers are seeing their time slots fill up quickly.

We're scheduled with Laura of Vibrant Life Photography. I love her outdoor shots, where the light looks so beautiful and gauzy and warm. She seems to capture that magical fall Colorado sunlight. That's what I want.

Getting to know her, it turns out photography was always a hobby until the birth of her second child, and she decided life was too short not to be doing the thing that she loves -- so she started her photography business. (I love stories like that!) Her portfolio is full of families, kids, babies, and baby bumps (kinda makes me wish I'd done one of me pregnant).

Plus, she's offering an amazing Holiday mini-session deal: a 45-minute photo session (perfect for the short attention spans of my 1 and 4 year olds), 10-15 proofs in an online gallery (not an overwhelming 400 photos that make you blow your whole budget and just buy the entire CD because you can't make up your mind), 50 custom holiday cards, 2 8x10's, 2 5x7's, and 16 wallets. All for just $279 if you book through her Facebook page!

I thought it would be nice to get Laura's tips on how to choose the right photographer. Aside from just liking their work, she's got some objective points to consider. Read on....

There are so many photographers out there to choose from these days, and more photographers entering the arena every day. So if you are looking for someone to photograph your family, child, or baby, how do you figure out which photographer is right for you? Especially with time-sensitive shoots (like maternity & newborns) there isn't time for a reshoot if things don't go well and you don't like the images. So doing your research to make sure you find a true professional who will deliver the images and product you expect is essential to a good custom photography experience. 

So here are the top 5 things to look for when choosing a photographer for your family:
#1: Do you love their style? Take a look at their website and images to make sure that you like what you see. If you want a studio session on a backdrop, hiring a photographer who does a lot of outdoor work would be a mistake. Not having a physical studio is ok, however, you want to make sure that you and the photographer are on the same page in terms of the images you will receive. Look carefully at their portfolio. If you don't see something that makes you say "wow" at least once, then they might not be the photographer for you! Their work should move you!

The next few items all deal with technique! Most people can immediately see when a photo is amazing, but it's harder to know when a photo is bad (especially when it is your cute kiddo!) Exposure, focus, lighting & composition are all essential. None is less important than the other, and missing one of them makes for a less than awesome photograph. A professional should know how to use each of these elements to create a gorgeous work of art for you!

#2: Exposure: Watch for blowouts on faces (skin that is way too bright), harsh reflections, or shadows from on-board flash. These are all professional no-no's. Same goes for underexposure, if the skin looks blotchy, grey and just too dark, then you know it's underexposed. The same goes for black & whites. They should be bright and contrasty, not dull and grey. Here is an example of exposure:

#3: Focus: You will often hear words like crisp and clear when non-photographers describe this. We know it when we see it. Have you ever seen the facebook photo (from an iPhone or a point-and-shoot) of a couple where the background is more in focus than the couple? If you are paying a professional photographer for a custom photo shoot, the subject should be in focus, not the background! (Unless this is a creative decision by the photographer to not have the child/person in focus in this shot). Being able to control focus (and the resulting depth of field) is absolutely required if you are a professional. 

#4: Lighting: Good lighting can make the difference between a professional portrait, and a snapshot. A good photographer will know how to choose lighting that is both flattering to their subject, and makes for an interesting photograph. Lighting can be magical, or ho-hum. It's the photographer's job to know the difference and to find that beautiful lighting for you! Here is an example of good lighting and not so great lighting. See the difference?

#5: Composition: Without going into too much detail, a well composed image will be pleasing to the eye, and hold your interest within the photograph. Also, posing should be flattering to the subjects (no up the nose shots, or weird angles). Tilting and using angles can be used creatively, however, the basic idea is that these elements should add to the photograph, not take away from it. If the people, child, or baby, look like they are about to slide out of the picture that is usually an indicator of a bad tilt. 

Finding the right photographer for your family is mostly about finding a good fit! The photographs of your family and children that you have taken this year will likely outlast even your new car. And your enjoyment of your portraits can very well last for a lifetime. As a mother myself, I know all too well how fleeting these moments with our young children can be, and how quickly kids grow up right before our very eyes! When making the choice to hire a custom photographer, if you choose your photographer wisely you can enjoy your investment for years to come.

To see more of Laura's work, visit her website at http://www.vibrantlifephotography.com, or her facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/VibrantLife.


  • Anonymous said:  

    These are great tips on how to select a photographer - thanks!