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Choosing a Photographer: Quantity vs. Quality

You’re shopping for family portraits, checking out all the local photographers’ websites and trying to compare offerings. Prices are all over the board and what is offered does not appear to correlate from one photographer to the next. One photographer with a low price is offing 75 pictures. Another is priced high and is only offering 30 pictures. And another’s price only includes the session with all the prints and digital files sold separately. So, how can you compare to find the best value? Let’s go through some of the different things to consider when selecting a photographer.

Quantity of pictures

How many pictures should you expect from your photographer? Why do some promise only 25 and others may promise 100. That is a big difference…is one trying to short sell you or is the other overselling themselves? Is the one offering 100 pictures really a better photographer?

There are several things that go into how many pictures a photographer shows you in the end. Sometimes it is skill level—he knows that he can only promise 25, but then frequently over-delivers and gives most customers 35. Sometimes it depends on how the photographer works: is he familiar with the location and knows he can get a lot of different looks in a short period of time, or is she looking for new original, creative shots on every session? The photographer’s method of selecting the final images to show also contributes to the number of pictures you see in the end. Does he show all different looks and each picture is clearly unique? Or, are there multiple pictures that are nearly identical, making you play “Spot the difference” when selecting your pictures? Sometimes the photographer is saving you a lot of time by only showing you one of each rather than 3 pictures with only slight differences in expression or the angle of a head. The last thing that factors in is the amount of editing the photographer does. Is it just color balance and basic exposure? Or, does she spend time on each piece to create a custom artwork of each photo? This type of editing takes time. The more you pictures you are promised, the less time can be spent on each individual photo.

Length of the Session

Another area that varies greatly from one package to the next is the session length. Is longer better? Well that depends on your situation: how many people are in the photos? what are their ages? Young children especially do not have the longest attention spans for having photos taken. A photographer who can work fast and get some well-planned, intentional shots, may get more good shots of your children. The longer the session, the more likely you will be wasting time trying to get the children’s attention back to the pictures.

But can a session be too short? The best pictures will be taken in the middle of the session. The first bunch is used to get to know each other and how both photographer and client work, building the trust and confidence. With young children this may take a little longer if the child is shy or uncertain of this stranger taking their picture. Just like the first bunch, the last bunch people are getting tired and restless, kids are tired of holding still or being in one spot. If the session is too short, then most of the time is spent getting to know each other. It is often best to go with a middle of the road length so there is enough time for building trust and confidence, but end as people are getting restless. In my experience, about an hour is normal, sometimes with younger children this can even be shortened to 45 minutes.

The number of outfits can also affect the length of the session, if you are looking for two or more outfits, then a longer session may be necessary to accommodate the change of clothes and to fix hair.

Session only

The two most common pricing models for portraits are the all inclusive with session and digital files that you can print, or a session fee with prints and digital files sold separately. Both can have advantages for you as the buyer.

With the all-inclusive model, you know exactly how much it will cost start to finish with the idea that there will be not hidden costs. The session with pictures sold separately model leaves you the option of spending less than what you planned if the final pictures did not turn out the way you were hoping.

Most photographers that price separately give you some indication of what the products are priced at before you sign any contract with them so you can still get a ballpark idea. It is easy to assume that the photographers that are pricing separately just want to sell more products. There is a certain truth to this—they do want to sell you product over digital images, but to your benefit. Keep in mind that digital images are NOT archival! In my lifetime digital media has changed at least 5 times. The 3 ¼ floppy disk that contains the baby pictures of my 20+ year old son is not good for showing him how cute he was at that age. Archival prints will never be unreadable like the changing digital technology; they will last for generations. Despite our best intentions of getting the digital files printed, most customers do not follow through with that final step. The photographer’s prints may cost a little more than your favorite local big box printer, but they will be archived, better color quality, and ready to hang or display.


A final thing to consider is the location of the photo shoot. Is it in a studio, in your home, or at a park or other venue? If the photographer has a studio, they have the overhead of rent and utilities for that location, but they also save time by having more control of the environment with lighting and props available to them. They also don’t have to include travel time and expense in their pricing. This can affect the pricing that the photographer charges and which photographer you choose. If you want an outdoor session at a park, then a photographer with a studio may charge extra for this service because she has both the studio expense and the travel expense for your session, while a photographer who does not have a studio will often have reasonable travel included in the base price. So this is something to consider, if you are looking for an outdoor session a photographer who does not have a permanent studio will often be the better value for you.

These are some of the variables that go into the final number of pictures you receive from a photographer. Remember that what is best of one family may not be best for another. You may want highly edited dramatic photos. Or, you might prefer minimal editing and being given the opportunity to hand pick from a large quantity of images. Perhaps you have younger children who will get tired quickly, or maybe you’re a couple that wants a lot of different looks and different wardrobe changes. The preference of studio vs. on location may factor into your final decision of what photographer is the best fit for you.

Regardless of what you’re looking for, before making a final decision, take some time to contact the photographers that you are most interested in and have a conversation about what they offer. This will help ensure that you get the best package to meet your needs.

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