Back in 2011, my family visited my in-laws in northern Wisconsin. While we were there, we hired a photographer friend of my sis-in-law to take some family photos for us. I don’t know exactly how experienced she was but even then, we knew she wasn’t a professional. Her charge was fairly cheap, either $50 or $100 (I can’t remember which), but we’d seen the (nice) engagement photos she’d done for my sis-in-law. Since we couldn’t afford a professional photographer, this seemed a perfect solution.
The session itself was a bit of a nightmare, tbh. First, she spent less than half an hour with us. Second, she treated all of us like toddlers with that saccharine-sweet fake high-pitched voice adults use with kids when they don’t know a thing about kids. The boys consequently acted up throughout the entire thing, which frustrated me and caused Jason to turn into his goofy self that could get the kids to stop being grouchy, and so on. Lastly, she gave us almost no direction for most of the shoot, and when she did give direction, it put us in unnatural poses. Honestly, having sat for some actual photographers at different times, I thought this was fine, until I saw the photos and discovered that the poses looked as unnatural as they felt.
I was so upset when she gave us the photos. There were maybe 15 photos total, and there wasn’t a single good one among them. Literally only three included the entire family, which is what I’d really wanted. (The bottom photo in this post was the “best,” and in it, Laurence is actually crying…) Most were photos of the kids, with a few of Jason and me. I was the person who took pictures in our house, so I already had tons of the kids. I wanted family portraits. On top of all that, every photo looked wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on specifics, but not a single photo seemed worth the money we paid for them. It was really upsetting.
Fast forward to the present day. I’ve been studying and practicing photography for the last two years, and I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to either knowledge or skill. In October, I began doing practice photoshoots with friends. It’s a win-win situation. We all have fun, they get free photos (hopefully good photos), and I get a chance to practice. One of the unexpected benefits from this is that I’ve been contracted to take some family photos for a woman I met at a vendor show. I explained to her that I was a baby photographer and I’m not comfortable charging for photos at this stage because I can’t guarantee the quality. She either didn’t mind me being an amateur or she was happy about the idea of doing this for free, because she still booked with me. A friend of mine said that even as a baby photographer, I should be charging small amounts, just to get used to asking for money (another learned skill!). And that made me think back to that 2011 family photo session.
I kept most of the photos we were given back in 2011. Even though they were bad, they were important to me. I’m glad that I did, because I may not have been able to name why the photos were so bad in 2011, but I certainly can now. Partially finished and very visible blurred photoshop lines alongside parts of bodies. Horizon lines that are never straight. Patches of sunlight across faces. Glaring background objects that distract from the main subject. Kids caught mid-blink. Photos not cropped to properly frame the subject. The photographer even sent us the photos where the only thing not in focus were the people! No one should have been charged for that kind of work. It was absolutely unprofessional quality.
This is why I’m not charging. While I know better when it comes to the things I mentioned in the last paragraph, I also know there’s a lot that I don’t know. I make a lot of mistakes, whether that’s forgetting to check that there’s nothing left in the background that I’m going to have to remove later, to adjusting a setting but forgetting to adjust other settings to compensate. I’m especially new when it comes to photographing people rather than cats, butterflies, flowers, etc (aka the stuff I’ve mostly practiced these last few years). Plus, I only started learning how to use photo editing software a few months ago. So all in all, I mean it when I say I’m a baby photographer. Until I have a lot more practice and knowledge under my belt, I don’t want to charge. Even if it’s only $50, I don’t want to give anyone the kind of experience my family had in 2011.