Consumer Guide to Photography | Chicago Family Photographers

You’ve researched to find the best pediatrician, the highest-rated carseat, and the best bike helmet…Now, you're on a quest to choose a photographer to document your family's special memories. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of an enduring relationship. The choices are endless, the prices vary significantly, and you've become overwhelmed. Custom photography is an investment in your family’s heritage, but how do you choose a photographer? We hope this article will guide you in your process. Long after the carseat and the bike helmet are outgrown and the kids are too old for the pediatrician, your photographs will endure.

Things to Consider...

What is a professional photographer, anyway?

Being a professional photographer is so much more than owning a fancy camera. A true professional portrait artist certainly understands the complexity of operating her camera, but the camera is only one part of the portrait. A professional photographer is part psychologist, part best friend, part technical expert. You want a choose a photographer with whom you're comfortable spending time, dropping your guard, someone who creates an easy, relaxed atmosphere that can yield the truly emotive imagery you desire.

As digital cameras have become increasing sophisticated, so too have the number of inexperienced amateur photographers selling their photography services, displaying sleek websites and charging less and less for a photo session.At Soben Studios, we believe it is important for you, the consumer, to be educated about what you are paying for when you commission a photographer. If, after reading this article, you'd like further information about the costs of custom photography, you'll find a link to an in-depth essay on the subject.

The photographer’s website looks good. What else should I look for?

Anyone can take a picture, but only a skilled artist will create an heirloom portrait.  Certainly you could cut your own hair, but you trust an educated stylist instead. I imagine if you had all of the ingredients you could cook your family a five-course meal, but would it match that of a five star chef?

The clichés are plentiful: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is; You get what you pay for. But that’s the thing about clichés:  They’ve become cliché for a reason – they are usually true.

When searching for a professional photographer, ask the photographers about their training and education. Even if you've selected your most flattering outfit, the wrong light or angle can create unflattering results - imagine adding years or weight!  Look for a photographer who is educated in lighting and posing. In many cases, such an education is developed after years of experience behind the camera as well as ongoing collaboration with professional colleagues. Ask how long they have been in business, and what professional organizations they belong to. Some professional photographic organizations are as easy to join as ebay while others require applicants to submit a portfolio of work.

Consider the photographer’s style, and be sure it matches your own. Do the subjects appear to be engaged with the photographer, or are they most often looking off-camera? Are the smiles genuine, or do they feel coerced?  Is the website full of a variety of subjects, or do you see the same subjects over and over? Most likely, a professional will not feature any images of his own children on his website, but rather will make his website representative of clients over time.

Consider your interaction with the studio: How quickly did the studio respond to your inquiry? Were your questions answered thoroughly? Did you like their demeanor, and feel that you were treated with respect?

I don’t know a lot about photography. What should I look for in assessing a photographer’s work?

Here's a quick Photo Appreciation 101 lesson: 1) Are the images properly exposed? 2) Are the black and white images beautiful - with rich detail - or are they just somewhat gray? 3) Do the skin tones of portrait subjects look natural, or artificially enhanced - or even orange?! 4) Are the important details in focus, or do you notice fuzzy hands moving in the image?  5) Are arms, legs and fingers "chopped-off" in their gallery images? 6) Are there extreme highlights and shadows? If you notice any of these imperfections, chances are you've found a photographer who is new to the business, or has not invested in education, training or technique.

Is the photographer a licensed professional operating a business, or is he an amateur hobbyist with a slick website, and should I care?

Most inexpensive photographers are not running an actual business. Photography is a hobby that they hope will bring in some extra money. Consequently, they do not have insurance, top-of-the-line equipment, back-up equipment, or archival systems for imagery (among other things). By contrast, a professional photographer operates a successful studio (either from home or in another space), pays all of her taxes, maintains insurance, and is licensed by the government to operate as a business. Licensure and insurance are both forms of consumer protection. They demonstrate the photographer is serious about her business, complying with the law, and committed to ensuring the highest professional standards. Imagine if you are dissatisfied with your portraits, or even worse, something happens to your child during your session. In the absence of insurance or licensure, you would have no recourse.

Why is custom photography so expensive?

There is not short answer to this important question. The costs of operating and maintaining a successful studio are substantially higher than expected. An average portrait session takes us 12-19 hours to produce. A quality professional camera with proper lenses (and of course back ups for both!) can easily run $10,000 - $30, 000. Necessary computers with adequate memory and applicable software can run thousands as well. For a more detailed breakdown of time spent on sessions and financial commitments, we invite you to peruse this fabulous article by our esteemed colleague, Marianne Drenthe of Marmalade Studios, who masterfully explains to the consumer the costs of custom photography. Thank you, Mare, for putting this into a language that can be understood.please visit