Taking Family Pictures - Studio Options

18 June 2012

We just had our 18 month old photo session for the twins and so this week's posts will be focused on family photography.The first question is "Do I really need professional photographs taken?". My answer would be yes. I thought I didn't but I now regret the fact that I do not have nicer pictures from when the girls were younger. The next step from "Yes" would be to choose a photo studio. Here are the options available as well as the pros and cons of each

Photo Studio Options

Department Store Photo Studio: These are the portrait studios in department stores like  Sears, JC Penney, Walmart, Target etc
Flexible hours: Most share opening days and hours with the associated department store so they're available on holidays and could stay open as late as 9PM 
Affordable Options:In the form of promos, coupon codes, club membership discounts etc
Easy appointment bookings with little to no wait time
Huge variation in photographer skill. Some are good, some are bad and some are very very bad. Could end up with a photographer who's not an expert at kid or baby photography
Photos may not be available immediately after session. Target had a 2 week wait period
Sessions are generally shorter - one hour or less. With two babies, one hour is sometimes not enough time to get them in the right mood for good pictures
Props may be limited and/or cheap looking

Photo Studio Chains: These are regional or national standalone photo studio chains. Kiddie Kandids (US), Picture People (US) and Magenta Studio (Canada) come to mind
Flexible hours: Most are located in shopping malls and share the same opening days and hours with the mall
Immediate photo printing within an hour or less
Printing Options: Of the three studio options, these chains offer the most printing options e.g canvas prints
Huge variation in photographer skill. There's still no guarantee that your photos will be taken by an experience child photographer. 
Sessions could be shorter on busy days - one hour or less.  

Private Photographers:  
Location shots: Some private photographers are willing to hold photo sessions outside of their studio. This is especially good for kids who do not respond well to indoor flash and lights of a studio. Their photos can be taken outside on a sunny day with no flash required
Skill it's easier to predict the skill of the photographer as there's usually only one person taking the shots versus when using a commercial studio 
Touch-ups: Some will offer touch-ups free. (A good option for drools and runny noses)
Cost. This can easily be the most expensive option of the 3
Wait times: A very good photographer will have a long waitlist so sessions have to be booked months in advance especially sessions for holiday photos
Photo Delivery Time: Most professional private photographers will not deliver the photos till weeks after the session

My Experience with professional photographers: 
The twins had their 6 weeks New Year photos taken at Picture People. Even with club membership, this was quite expensive and almost all the pictures were not usable.The photographer's expertise with baby photography was right around zero
Valentine's and 9 months professional photos were taken at Target portrait studio.The photographer was good with the babies, which is why we went back for the 9 month photos. We went on a weekday so we were not rushed out of our session. Only negative was that the pictures had to be sent somewhere else for printing so we did not receive prints till 3 weeks later 
First birthday photos were taken at Sears. We got a good package deal on this and took the pictures around 7 PM after work. The photos themselves were just ok and we go the CD immediately after the session 
18 month photos were taken with a private photographer. Well-priced package, 90 minutes session, lots of good props and an experienced photographer. We had to wait 3-4 weeks to see the photos though

Hands down, I would say the experience with the private photographer was the best option for us. So how about you? What's your take on professional family photos? Which studio has given you the best value for money?

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