Choosing The Right Photographer

I want to start by saying that one photographer is NOT the right one for everyone. There will be photographers that you just don't click want to get along with your photographer, make sure you like their personality or you won't get the 'magical' portraits you're looking for. 
When you start off looking for a photographer that is right for you, you will have three main choices.
1. The retail chain 
2. The professional
3. The shoot and burn

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The retail chain
The goal of retail chain portrait studios is to reel you in with an AH-MA-ZING deal, like free sitting fee and a few freebies, but what are you really getting? Sure the sitting fee may be free for the first person, but what about the rest of your family?
A simple search of a major portrait studio says their special offer is 26 portraits for $7.99 - crazy deal, right?
Did you read the fine pose, one subject, natural color only, additional sheets $19.99 (which are typically 8x10, my 8x10 is $15). That session will probably last 10-15 minutes and you will get 7 shots to choose from, not necessarily usable shots. If you wanted an 11x14 canvas, guess how much that is...$149.99 (want to know how much MY 11x14 canvas is...$100).

The professional
The goal of professional photographers is to create a lasting experience that yields quality portraits. There usually isn't any crazy deal to reel you in and then give you sticker shock after you're there. You are able to ask for a comprehensive price list before hand so you know what you could be investing.
Your 6 person family will probably be charged a sitting fee of $100 - $200 or maybe more and that probably will include only the photographer's time and talent. The session will typically last 1-3 hours, yes HOURS! That means you can change outfits and maybe even locations, and did you say you needed to feed your baby-there is plenty of time for that too. You will end up with 20-40 great images for you to choose from. For print orders professional photographers use professional labs and give the highest quality prints. The professional also edits with one of the Adobe programs such as Lightroom or a version of Photoshop's Creative Suite.

The shoot and burn
The goal of the shoot and burn photographer is normally to make some quick cash. Please do not confuse the shoot and burn photographer with a portfolio building professional photographer. You will probably spend $25-$50 and your session will last about an hour. You will get a CD with the images from the session, probably around 100 or so and a 'copyright' release. The shoot and burn photographer may not offer prints and if they do most likely they are printed from a consumer company that anyone could order prints from. Basically the shoot and burn photographer is like a friend with a camera...except they are a stranger and you are paying them to do what you could get with any point and shoot or cell phone. Just remember that just because they have a 'big camera' does not mean they have any idea what they are doing with it. The shoot and burn photographer typically uses free editing software such as picasa or picnik.

With all of that being said, the equipment does not make the photographer! I have seen amazing images taken with iPhones or point and shoots, and horrid images taken with top of the line pro level DSLR's.

This post is about the care and consideration as well as the intentions of the different types of photographers that you can book a session with. You may be a retail kind of consumer- if that works for you then go for it! Just like you may prefer a shoot and burn to a professional- again if that works for you then go for it!
Just know that not all photographers are created equal : in price, quality, or experience you receive.
No one can tell you what the right photographer is for YOU

What to expect:
Retail store: in and out in 15 minutes, 1-3 good images, spend $10-$300
Professional: 1-3 hour session, 20-40 great images, spend $200-$1000
Shoot and burn: 1 hour session, 100 maybe decent images, spend $25-$50
The difference is in the quality and experience. When you look back at your images on your wall how will they make you feel? Will you even remember how that day was? Will they make you smile because of the memories they bring back?
I know that when I look at my favorite images of my kids hanging on my wall, which are professionally done, I remember every detail of what happened that day and can't help but smile at the chaos that went into getting that priceless image.
When I look at the retail images from when my son was a baby all I can remember is that we only got the one image and we spent so long just waiting to be seen for a 10 minute - what felt like going through a fast food drive thru- session.
When I look at the images from when we had a shoot and burn session, those are all on my external drive - never printed because they honestly weren't wall worthy at all. I just remember that my life would be no different had it never happened.

Let's get down to recognizing good work and bad work
You will notice on the bad newborn image the lighting is bad and very uneven. Not to mention the use of selective color, the bad posing of the baby and the fact that the baby has a pacifier in his mouth. In the good image you will notice the nice even lighting, a serenely sleeping baby that is well posed. The good image  looks over all more put together and effortless.

Another example but this time maternity.
The bad image well....that's a dreadful color cast, she really wasn't that color-she was not an oompa loompa.
The good image has even lighting and good composition.

Notice the bad image- on board flash used, harsh shadows and that crazy oompa loompa color again. Poor composition and I could go on and on about no vision or real connection with the subjects. Of course the bad angle and posing too...I just, no.
Notice the good images- Nice even lighting, clear communication and you can feel the way the subjects feel ♥

Bad image- wow lots of bad in this one. Terrible posing, completely crumpled background, it's just really bad, like really really bad.
Good image- interesting angle and composition. Good color and exposure, great tonal range and depth.


A note from Morgan

For all of you that are thinking OMG, she is totally bashing aspiring photographers and I feel so bad for the photographers that have their images put up on this post....don't feel bad, all the craptastic images are mine! Yes the bad images are from when I first started portfolio building almost seven years ago. Let's just say I thought I was awesome and knew what I was doing, and thank every day that someone told me I I strive to prove them wrong :)
Every professional photographer starts out not knowing what they are doing, what you need to know is that there is a difference in someone doing it for a hobby, someone doing it for the quick cash, and someone operating a business or aspiring to do so. With each different type of photographer there is a different style and quality that you will get. A good rule is to look through your potential photographer's portfolio/website and if you love 80% or more of their current work then they may be the right photographer for you, I also suggest having a chat with them by phone or in person to see if your personalities match up. Lastly ask yourself if you would want to hang these images on your wall for years to come and pass them down through the generations to come.


  1. Very insightful info here! There are so many misconceptions about different types of photographers and I'm glad you clarified the differences!

  2. Congratulations on your amazing growth! This is an excellent article!


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