The Senior year of high school is a year that is packed with busy schedules, items to get checked off the To-Do list, rites of passage, excitement and "lasts". Parents are overwhelmed by all of the things they need to help their Senior(s) with, and most of the time they are also trepidatious about their child going out of their protective purview and off into the thrilling world of college and adult life.
Most parents I talk to about their Senior are very concerned about making sure everything their child needs is taken care of before the many deadlines that loom ahead. One of the most fun and special things your son or daughter will take part in either the Summer before their Senior year or the Fall of their Senior year is Senior portraits. Now this... this I know a lot about.
You see, with the advent of digital photography, there are more professional photographers than ever. The barrier to entry is quite low, so it's an easy business to start.
The problem arises when you try - as a consumer - to wade through the sea of professional photographers and find the right one for YOU.
So, what is the first thing you consider when looking around for a Senior photographer?
Is it style? Or maybe quality of print products offered? Maybe your daughter really wants to have her hair and makeup done professionally before her session so she can be camera ready, so you want that included in the session fee... Or maybe your son or daughter is an athlete and wants high quality action shots included in their gallery of images. Perhaps your number one concern is cost, because you only have so much money to go around and there are a lot of expenses to be taken care of - you just need to find someone to do the job at as low a cost as possible.
This is where the cost/benefit analysis must begin. I definitely understand budget constraints, but I also know that there is a large portion of the population in the middle of the road who would like to save some money, but quality and style are also very important to them. So if you are one of those people, you have to decipher all of the options out there and make the right choice.
I only shoot Senior girls, so I have purposefully built my business around providing the most luxurious, fun and memorable Senior Session out there for Senior girls in Dayton, Ohio (where I live) and the surrounding area. Therefore, my session fee is relatively high compared to most local photographers - it is a luxury service. However, along with that cost comes a lot of benefits!
I include the following in my sessions:
Pre-Session consultation so I can get to know your daughter and help her pick out outfits
Professional hair and makeup before the session
4 outfits/2 hours of shooting time
Private online gallery for ordering
$100 print credit (and buying ALL of the digital files is only $150)
My session fee costs $895.
Did I just hear a gasp come through the internet from your computer?! Do you think that is expensive, or even overpriced?
Well, consider the following...
I use high quality professional-grade gear made by Canon and Sigma. (It's expensive!)
I use the industry standard high quality software to edit my images. (It's expensive!)
I have spent years honing my skills and fine tuning my style.
I am a licensed professional and I am insured. I am a legitimate business that pays taxes - not a fly by night operation.
Because I am a legitimate business, I accept multiple methods of payment including major credit cards, checks and bank transfers. Not just cash.
I include pampering services for my clients and even a print credit.
I have spent the time to find the best makeup artists and hair stylists around who know how to make Seniors look good in front of the camera - which is different than everyday makeup and hair.
All of my prints, canvases, albums, coffee table books, etc. are listed on my website with their exact prices. NOTHING IS HIDDEN. Nothing is a mystery. You will not click on your gallery to order your images or show up for an ordering session and be shocked at the amount you will have to pay to get what you want. There are some photographers/studios out there that lure you in with a very low session fee, and when you arrive to order your products, you finally get to see the secret price list and it doesn't follow suit with their session fee. Uh oh.
Here's a warning sign: if you request to see the product prices before the session/booking, and they don't provide it to you - be wary.
So, hopefully at this point you are thinking that maybe the first criterion you should have for a Senior photographer is not their session fee, but the quality of their work, their legitimacy as a business, or the level of service you will receive from them.
Here is a checklist to help you narrow down your list of photographers:
- Are they a licensed, insured business person and not just someone with a Facebook page and a camera?
- Do I/my Senior absolutely love their style? Is their body of work consistent?
- Are they members of any professional photographers associations?
- Has their work been published in magazines or photography blogs? While not necessarily a deciding factor (not all photographers have an interest in this), being published/featured means that the photographer in question works hard to showcase their work and stay at the leading edge of their industry.
- Do they provide great service and love taking care of their clients? Do they respond to emails/texts, etc. on a professional level?
- Do they do any retouching or do I have to pay extra for that? (I fully retouch every image - getting rid of any acne, bruises, and even softening skin in unattractive areas that might show such as armpits!)
- If they do retouch images, do the Seniors in their images look like they have real skin, or plastic Barbie skin?
- Are all of their prices provided before booking? Are there any hidden fees? Do they charge extra for shipping? All of this should be clear before you reserve a spot on their calendar.
- Will the owner/Lead photographer be taking your Senior's images, or will one of their employees be doing the honors? (One of my friends booked a very well known photographer for her wedding, and he failed to tell her beforehand that he wouldn't even be shooting her wedding. He sent two of his associate photographers without telling her!) If you have your heart set on working with the lead photographer, you should make sure ahead of time that she/he is the one who is going to be making your portraits.
This is just a small list of things to consider. I hope this will help someone out there find the right photographer for their Senior portraits! There's so much to look forward to during your Senior year... you should love your Senior portraits! They should last a lifetime and always remind you of how beautiful a person you are.