During a recent conversation with a colleague, a wedding photographer, he was lamenting that it was hard to compete with “every college kid with a Canon Rebel”. These days everybody’s a photographer. While I could certainly understand his frustration I don’t necessarily feel his pain. Competition drives innovation. If you want to compete in a world where artistry and technology marry, you had better offer something no one else does. And let’s be real, most Smart Phones have better imaging capability than my first camera. So why should you hire a pro? Because there is a lot more to a great image than just the camera.
The Camera: Yep, every photographer has one, and so does everyone else. Depending on your level of interest in photography you might have anything from an I-phone to a pro-grade Cannon with an assortment of lenses. You may even have a better camera than your average photographer, whose choice of equipment will depend on a host of factors from nostalgia to functionality. Personally, I tend toward the less-is-more approach. Any given weekend you’ll see me wandering around a park or event with my Nikon D3300 and generally a single lens or two. I need mobility and flexibility when I shoot. An average shoot you’ll likely find me laying in the grass, crouched on one knee, wading through a creek, or possibly climbing a tree. Once I even chased a run-away pup for a half mile at a full run. Plus, I always photograph subjects (dogs & cats) with very limited attention spans, so changing lenses has become a luxury I generally forgo. For these reasons I keep my equipment as compact as possible. But other photographers may find more equipment gives them more versatility and better results. Meanwhile, I have seen amazing artwork produced with an IPhone. A camera is like any other tool. One skilled carpenter may use a band-saw and power-drill to build your book case, while another may form it with a hammer and chisel. It is as much about the hands as it is about the tools. Choose your photographer by their portfolio more than their equipment.
The Experience: Experience could mean a lot of different things. Some folks pursue official degrees in Art or Photography. Others are self taught. Most will be a mix of the two. As with any tech, photography is constantly changing. So upgrading equipment and software is a must, and so is constantly learning how to use those upgrades. But there are a lot of other skills that go into creating a beautiful portrait. Knowing how to work with the ambient light, and your own equipment are vital. But you also have to know how to work with your subjects. I have been professionally photographing pets and their people for 7 years and every single shoot offers new challenges and an ever growing knowledge-base of how to over-come them. I have worked with deaf dogs, blind dogs, hyper dogs, and dogs who were completely out of control, not to mention cats. I love cats but we all know they are usually not good at following directions. I have even photographed house-mates who tried to maul each-other when they got within two feet of each other. Whatever the circumstances, I have a whole duffle-bag of tricks to get the best portrait possible. “Sit up strait, tilt your head slightly, look at the camera, and smile big” doesn’t usually accomplish much with your average Golden Retriever. And they definitely don’t sit still for long. When I was still in college I got my first taste of photographing pets. I chose my sweet one-year-old husky for a semester-long photography project. Of all the dogs to teach me to be patient for the moment and then quick on the shutter, she was the one! To date I have only met one pet I couldn’t beautifully photograph, it was a cat who ran and hid under the bed at the sight of my equipment. From Shelties to Sphynx Cats, experience is the difference between a blur of fur and a polished pet portrait.
You can’t be in your own photos. While everyone loves a good selfie you may not want to blow one up to 11×14, frame it, and hang it in your living room. Even as a professional photographer, I still hired a pro for my own wedding. Ok, so technically he was a friend of my new hubby, but a wedding photographer non-the-less. And how many of us have family photo albums where Mom is noticeably absent because she was always the one taking the pictures? The camera companies noticed too, that’s why they installed the handy-dandy self-timer. Ok, you got your tripod, you got your camera set on timer. You push the button and now you have 10 seconds to get both parents looking at the camera instead of the kids. Get the kids looking at the camera instead of the dogs. And the dogs looking at the camera instead of the bird, the squirrel, and the grass. And don’t forget to smile :). So even if you’re pretty good with a camera consider getting on the other side of it for a frame-worthy, polished family portrait.
What are you paying for? Yes, hiring a pro will cost more than if you do it yourself. And the prints will likely cost a good bit more than getting your pics from Walgreens. So what are you paying for? Well, all of the things mentioned above. You are paying for your photographer to keep their equipment up to date, editing programs can run upward of $300, and a single camera lens may cost over $1000 to replace. You are paying for their artistry and experience. Whether they have been photographing for months, years, or decades will effect the final outcome of your portraits. You are paying for their time. For me an average shoot lasts about 90 minutes, but the editing process takes me between 4-6 hours. I will go through every single frame snapped, find the best ones, and then refine them to their best. This might be subtle changes to enhance color or lighting, soften skin tones, reduce wrinkles, remove blemishes, and whiten teeth. Or more drastic editing to remove random pedestrians who wandered into the shot, or ugly signs, or erase leashes when possible. But the more important question is what do you really get? You get a lasting image of your bond with your furry loved ones worthy of being hung on your living room wall for all to see. Often I get calls from heartbroken pet-parents who have just received the worst news. Deep in our hearts we all know that some day we will have to say goodbye to our furry ones. But one day we look down and that muzzle has grayed; those eyes aren’t as bright; Fido isn’t as quick to chase after the mail-man; and we realize we don’t have forever with them. These are the photo-sessions that are the most sacred to me. To have someone trust me with their loved one’s limited time means more than words can describe. And I still cry every time I receive word from a client that one of their fur-babies has crossed over, and I’m honored when they let me know that the portraits from their session have helped their grieving, in even the smallest way. Whether you have days or years to spend with your furry family member you will be so glad you captured your beautiful memories in prints that will last as long as your love for them.