It all started with a shirt. A button down shirt covered in stegosauruses, to be precise. It wasn’t something I would normally choose for my dirt-loving, messy little boys, because it would be grubby within a few minutes and never look quite the same again. But it sure was cute! The idea flitted through my mind that it would look great on the beach for some photos, and it grew from there.
I could see the photos in my head. Long stretches of white sand. Sparkling clear water. Soft afternoon light. Big, empty skies. And two cheeky little boys in their stegosaurus shirts, grinning happily in our arms as my husband and I strolled down the beach. Bare feet, beige shorts, and a pretty turquoise dress for me, if I could lay my hands on one that I liked. And most of all, love and laughter and happiness, the things that make a family a family, and that make THIS family MY family.
Just over ten years ago, my husband and I chose our first ever professional photographer to capture a once in a lifetime experience – our wedding day. A decade later and living a whole different life as a family of four, we went through the same choice to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.
I spend my career photographing other people’s children and other families. I had a very strong opinion about what I wanted and didn’t want. Here are my tips on how to choose the perfect photographer for your family.
Step 1: Decide what you want
Think about your vision for your photo shoot.
For a newborn photo shoot, do you imagine your sleeping baby snuggled up in those perfect newborn poses, with carefully chosen backdrops and set ups (like this session here)? Or do you want more casual baby photos that show the imperfections of getting to know each other and learning how to be a parent?
For family photos, do you picture them fun-filled with you laughing and interacting together, or more formal photos of you all looking at the camera and smiling?
(It's ok to want a mixture of these too! Just have a think about it and be aware of what you want.)
Do you picture outdoor photos on your family farm (like these, for example), or your favourite beach (like this cutie here)? Or studio photos with a clean, simple backdrop that put the focus solely on your personalities and love for each other (like these)?
Do you want to celebrate this stage in your child's life by capturing their favourite place and pastime (like this mud-and-dirt shoot), or do you want them dressed up especially for the camera (same adorable boy, totally different vibe here)?
If you don't know yet, that's ok too. A good photographer will be able to talk you through these choices and help you get to the bottom of what you really want. The earlier you can start thinking about it, though, the easier your photographer choice will be and the more likely you are to be happy with the results.
I knew exactly what I wanted here - maybe in more detail than was helpful! ;-) Beach setting; tropical colours; mostly casual, intimate photos but with a couple of more formal, looking-at-the-camera ones; clean and uncluttered with a light, airy feel.
Step 2: Start searching
If you have been recommended a photographer by a friend, you have a great head start. It's still worth having a look around to make sure, but a good recommendation from someone you know and trust is worth more than what you can read online or hear third hand.
There are many different ways to search - Google, Instagram, Facebook, parenting groups, or even the good old Yellow Pages (although keep in mind that many photographers won't be listed in there these days). If using Google, try being fairly specific for what you are after (eg "Hamilton newborn photographer" or "Cambridge family photographer"). I recommend browsing through at least a few pages of results. Further down just means the photographer has put less focus on tailoring their website to rank well on Google - not that they will be less perfect as your photographer.
We were planning a weekend away for our anniversary at Papamoa or Mount Maunganui, and I didn't have any friends I knew of who had used photographers based there. I did searches for "Papamoa family photographer" and "Mount Maunganui family photographer", and trawled through dozens of listings. Which leads us to...
Step 3: Study their photos
Pour over the galleries on each of the websites you come across. Have a read of what they have to say about their sessions. If they have a blog, browse through a few blog posts to get a feel for the range of images they capture in a single session.
The most important thing is whether you like the style of their images. Do they fit with what you decided you were after back in Step 1?
Important tip: Don’t just see one stunning photo and hope that they can replicate that. Look at ALL their photos. Any photographer can get lucky with one great image, when the lighting is perfect and the model is gorgeous and everything just falls into place. Check for a consistent quality and style across all of them.
I browsed through about 30 websites that came up in my searches! I knew exactly the style that I had in mind, so for about 2/3 of the websites I quickly decided that they weren’t what I was after, and moved on. I fell in love with some stunning grungy, retro feeling photos I saw on a couple of websites. When I thought about it, though, the style of their images (the way they edit their photos, the colours they use, the lighting they choose) didn’t really fit with what I had in mind. They were beautiful, but they weren’t the right fit for us.
Step 4: Look at their products
Think about how you want to display the photos you have taken. Do you want them printed on canvas to feature on your wall? Are you more of a classic frame person? Do you want a beautiful album you can pour over with your family? Or are you a scrapbooker who wants digital files that you can make your own creations with?
Find out what products the photographer offers, and decide whether they align with what you are after. Printing is a hugely important part of the photographic process, and your photographer should be able to control all the details of the process – colour management, paper choices, layout and cropping. Don’t pay for professional quality photography, and then leave this critical part of the process to a budget bulk print lab. It would be a bit like going to a beautiful restaurant, and putting your own meal together from the frying pans and ovens in the kitchen!
I knew I wanted a feature wall gallery from our photo shoot, and probably an album as well if we got a good variety of photos. The photographer we were leaning towards just worked with digital files, but this suited me perfectly since I had access to my own tried and trusted print labs and beautiful products. I am head over heels in love with the metal wall gallery we ended up creating! My boys have also spent hours flipping through our beautiful album.
Step 5: Talk to the photographers
If you are tossing up between a few different photographers, give them a call and have a chat. Talk to them about your vision and see what advice they have to offer. You will get a good feel for whether they are the right fit for you.
Ask about the clothes you should wear, the time of day that would be best for your photo shoot, and how they make sure they get the best photos of your family. Whether you are worried about kids who won’t sit still, the extra pregnancy weight you are carrying, a husband who is skeptical about posing for photos – just ask them how they will handle it!
We only talked to one photographer over the phone. I instantly liked her approach and her attitude, and I felt straight away that her personality and her skills were a good fit for our family.
Step 6: Check your budget
It's easy to want to bring this step way further forward in the process, and I totally get that. There will always be financial constraints, and I know first-hand that, as parents of a newborn or of young children, money is tighter than ever. Let me just ask you a few questions though.
What do your parents have left from their childhoods? Probably some good memories, if they are still around. Maybe a couple of special toys or possessions. And hopefully a handful of photos.
Of all the things you could spend the money on, what will bring the most joy to your lives?
In ten years' time, what will you most care about out of all those things? How many things that you could spend money on now will still be around then?
What about in 30 years' time?
After you have gone, what will your children care most about?
I know you can't pull money out of nowhere, but you can decide on your priorities.
A couple of tips for managing your budget:
Quality over quantity. In 10 years’ time, having ONE excellent photo on your wall will mean more to you than having a hundred average photos buried away on your computer. If you have to work within a tight budget, you are better off getting just a few photos that you absolutely love, than a whole bunch of photos that you will end up feeling disappointed in.
Instalment payments and financing. If you know you will struggle to pay the full amount up front, check if your photographer has an option for a payment plan or financing arrangement. You may be able to spread the cost out over a few months instead of having to front up with it all at once.
We ended up spending a bit more than we first anticipated, but it was 100% worth it. We loved our photo shoot, we love the photos, and we absolutely adore the wall gallery hanging in our main living area and play room.
Our photos are everything I imagined they would be. The colours are perfect. The boys’ grins are infectious. You can see at a glance how much we belong together. How much we adore each other.
These are the loves of my life, and nothing makes me happier than being reminded of that every single day.
A huge thank you to the wonderful Deborah de Graaf Photography at Papamoa for our photos! Check her out sometime if you are over that way.
Do you have any burning questions about choosing the perfect photographer for your family? Would you like some advice on how to get genuine laughs from your kids instead of the dreaded “cheese” photo smiles? Do you want some family photos but are worried that the photos won’t be flattering of you? No question is too small or too silly! Just give me a call!