If I asked, “Would you hire a professional to photograph your wedding?” I think for most people the answer would still be a given. But would you hire a professional to photograph your family? As someone with a vested interest, I hope the answer would be “Yes”, although I detect an increasingly confident self-sufficiency creeping into this area now. And why not? It’s not only cameras that are more sophisticated, there is a wealth of inexpensive printing and publishing options that have grown too, not to mention the various new trends in taking and sharing photographs. So how does bringing in a photographer stack up in the face of this change? I am not talking here about a cheap fix, one of those “session and all the photos supplied on disc for £90” deals where, like an all-you-can-eat buffet, the only memory at the end will likely be indigestion. No, a proper portrait commission requires an emotional and financial commitment and, unlike wedding photography, is a much more discretionary investment. Is it worthwhile and what should you be looking for?
Taking the second part of that question, look beyond the camera for a start; the number one thing to consider is the finished work. It’s important to look to someone who understands the aesthetics and the production values required to turn the captured image into a physical product, be that a print, an album or a gallery-style wall mounting. Unless the chosen images are produced in some printed form I think it’s a fair bet your grandchildren won’t get to enjoy them, at least not in that spontaneous, tactile way that comes from handling an object. So a knowledge of production and an insistence on printing should very much be part of the package. Also editing, in the sense of choosing only the best and cutting the rest, is an unseen skill that is increasingly overlooked or even ignored. It is absolutely part of the photographic process. Dumping 500 unfiltered pictures on a disc is not a service to the client - it betrays a lack of rigour, at worst it may disguise a lack of skill. It’s vital to establish the quality of the outcome as well as making your choice on the basis of just style or price.
Having decided this is something you want to do, a major consideration is whether to go for a studio or location based session. I think this is a matter of personal preference - some people like the formality and neutral space of a studio setting, which often also brings a sense of structure to group shots. I am a location photographer as I believe that home is part of what makes family and so for me it is the natural backdrop where everyone can feel at ease.
And the benefits? Perhaps, as a parent, you always seem to have the responsibility for all the photography and you yourself never appear in any of the pictures (I am all too familiar with this). Perhaps you’re aware that you are not taking enough photos and theres’a real gap in your record of family life. Sometimes, it’s a great excuse to get the whole family together, particularly larger families with teenage children who never seem to be around at the same time or where parents do a lot of travelling. A photo shoot addresses all of these.
But here is the main point, it’s a brave thing to do to put yourselves under the scrutiny of an outsider. It’s this objective view that is one of the factors which makes the exercise so worthwhile. Children in particular respond well to the non-judgemental attention and often, their personalities really shine during a shoot. A good photographer will set out to portray you in the best possible light for sure, and seek to play to your strengths but he or she can present a refreshingly honest view as well; there are no preconceived ideas of family dynamics to get in the way. A good photo shoot creates a buzz at the time and you’ll have some amazing, eye-opening photos to enjoy. But when you put together an album or frame a beautiful portrait, those items become part of the glue that sticks family together in the years to come - that’s an investment that can only grow in value and makes the argument for doing it compelling. At whatever stage in your lives and even if only once, at least consider handing over photography to a professional.