There have been quite a few photographers who have recently written blog posts about why custom photography costs more. Many of them are spot-on and very informative for people who may not have ever had the experience of a custom, on-location photographer before. In fact, most of us are so used to the "in-and-out mall studio" experience and their super-cheap promotional pricing, that when presented with the price list of a custom photographer, our eyebrows raise sky high! Some people even look at the cost of custom photography and say, "Oh, my! Why would someone spend that much money on pictures? Is it really that much better than the mall studio?" Well, folks, better is a subjective term. Is a $300 Coach bag really better than the knock-off $20 version you can get at the purse kiosk in the mall? Ask anyone who owns a real Coach bag and they'll tell you. Is your $4 cup of coffee from Starbucks really better than brewing it at home for pennies on the dollar? Many people obviously think so - there's a Starbucks on every corner and they always seem busy! So, the value of any item is subjective. It's just a purse...it's just a cup of coffee...it's just a picture. It's not about brand name (although we all know that branding is a big part of US consumerism) but the difference in price on any item is often a direct result of the quality and experience. In this blog post, I'd like to address a question that I know some of you are asking yourself. "Is a custom portrait session with Kimberlin Gray Photography really better than the mall studio? Is it worth the extra cost?" Let's take a moment to compare the two on a few key points:
Personal Attention: When you go to Studio A, you may have an appointment or you may walk in. A receptionist checks you in and you wait until your photographer is ready. You may or may not have ever met that person before and went into the experience totally on your own as far as clothing choices. But, when you choose Kimberlin Gray Photography, you are getting personal attention and service. I will chat with you on the phone or via e-mail before our session to be sure you know what to expect and we discuss location and wardrobe in detail. I will give you suggestions, helpful hints, and even help you choose outfits and accessories. I want to be sure that the portraits you have taken reflect more than just what you look like that day. There is no waiting around entertaining your child in a 10x20 room. It's all about you!
Experience with Children: Studio A reminds me of a line from a book my daughter likes to read: "You get what you get and you don't get upset". The photographers at Studio A may or may not have ever worked with children the same age or with the same type of personality as yours. You never really know what you're going to get as far as the personality of the photographer or his/her experience (both with photography and with people). But, when you choose Kimberlin Gray Photography, you are choosing to go with someone with plenty of experience with children - and their parents. I have a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education and over 10 years experience teaching young children. I also have my own children - a spunky 4 year old girl and an active 15 month old boy. This is what makes your experience with me different. I know kids. I engage with children, I talk with them, I capture their true smile and their real personalities. With newborns and babies, I am patient. I understand that it takes time and coaxing to capture such a precious and fleeting time. At Studio A, they give you a certain number of shots and finish within a set time whether or not your child has warmed up or even cracked a smile. You either get a white backdrop (which does not always look good with certain skin tones or outfits) or a color/fake scene backdrop. With Kimberlin Gray Photography, there is no limit to how many shots I take or how many "poses" or "backdrops" you choose. We walk around, we play, we take our time. I strive to give my clients a variety of poses and groupings. For example, in a typical family session you'll see photos of the family all together, but also each individual child, siblings together, mom with the kids, dad with the kids, mom and dad together....I don't stop at 20 poses. :D
Image Detail - One of the hallmarks of Studio A is the idea that you can walk out with your pictures that same day - even in just a few hours! Unfortunately, what you sacrifice to get those pictures so quickly is quality and attention to image detail. The photographer loads your photos on the computer in the back and quickly adjusts basic exposure and cropping to maximize the image for presentation. You see basically a straight-out-of-the-camera shot. And, that's what you get to take with you from their big, industrial printer in the back room. They print how they print and that's what you get. However, after a session with Kimberlin Gray Photography, your images are looked at individually and processed one-by-one, not as a big batch. I have many digital techniques that I use to help make your family's images really pop! I also work with people when they have special requests. I have taken bruises off little boys' faces, smoothed out distracting fly-away hair, touched up stretch marks "love stripes" on pregnant bellies, and made a few new mommies look just a bit less tired under the eyes! If I convert an image to black and white it isn't just by pressing a button. I am very careful with my black and white conversions to be sure that they really enhance and make an image beautiful. Sometimes I see images from Studio A that make a baby or child look like a character from Twilight - a little too gray and "undead" for my taste! :) The bottom line is that while Studio A takes about 30 minutes to process your photos, Kimberlin Gray Photography spends hours and hours in the "digital darkroom" so that every image you see in your gallery is a perfect representation of your family. Then, the image is sent off to a professional lab who specializes in printing on premium paper and it is lustre coated for longevity. Finally, I package them up beautifully for you so that when you see the final product, you are blown away!
Unique, Specialized Products: When you go to choose your pictures at Studio A, they have packages based on "poses". You can get 50 pictures for $9.99!! WOW! What a value, right? Well, yes and no. What you get is 50 of the exact same picture. After that, you pay their premium price for a sheet - and again, all photos on that sheet must be the same. So, you are proofed 25 photos, but you have to choose one. Okay, maybe two. At Kimberlin Gray Photography, you get what you want. You are not bound by certain sizes and you don't have to have the same picture printed in a hundred different sizes. Not only that, you get to select between unique and fun products like canvas prints, storyboard collages, magnetic mini-albums, and cool photo storage tins!
These are just a few of the reasons that a custom portrait session with Kimberlin Gray Photography is different than the studios you are used to. So when you see that my minimum order requirement is $200, you now know some of why the cost is higher. You are not paying $200 for a few pieces of paper - the cost is not for the paper that the image is printed on. The cost is for all of the custom work that goes into the session - from before we even meet until after you receive your portraits.
Now, if your goal is to simply get a few photos of your child and buy an 8x10, two 5x7's and a few wallets to give to family, then Studio A is a fine option. My intent here is not to say that the mall studios are inherently bad or that you should not use them. In fact, I have taken my daughter there many times and have some very cute photos of her. But, I always went in thinking it was cheap and somehow ended up spending between $100-150 and never felt like the photos were truly that good. With Kimberlin Gray Photography, you are choosing to spend more - but you are also guaranteed to have a fun, personalized experience that results in beautiful portraits of your children and your family to display on your walls with pride and treasure for years to come!
**Disclaimer: Long, rambling post ahead**
I'm writing this post from my heart today - not to share client photos or talk about a contest or give a sneak peek. I'm writing this as a New Year's Resolution. I know, we typically expect New Year's Resolutions in January, right? That's the time of year when we think of new beginnings and naturally assess our lives and take stock of where we are and where we thought we'd be. But, this past January, I didn't make any resolutions...I was knee-deep in preparations to launch my business and set up this blogsite. It was a huge leap of faith - I had a few really great friends and clients who were referring me to their friends and family, but I had no marketing plan, paid for no advertising, and was still working with a designer on my logo and trying to figure out how to become "legit" (licenses, tax forms, etc.).
I could never have imagined how fast my business would take off! It's been an amazing 5 months - 43 sessions from the beginning of February until the end of May! And while I'm absolutely THRILLED that I have so many people who have chosen me to capture their special memories, I feel as though I've forgotten that I already have a full time job. And here it is:
Two things happened last week that tipped me off to the fact that I may need a 12 step program - or at the least, a little balance.
1. I fell asleep on the couch, sitting up, with the laptop on my lap at 10am. Which is not necessarily surprising since I've not been to bed before 1am in months. The only time my house is quiet without anyone who needs mommy/wife/sister/daughter/niece/friend is between the hours of 10pm and 2am. So, that's when I work, editing, putting together storyboards, uploading client galleries, ordering prints, burning CD's, oh, and maybe getting caught up on Facebook. ;) Then, I'm up between 6:30-7am with my little ones who never nap at the same time during the day. As all of you stay-at-home moms know, it is a full time job when you have children under the age of 5 in your home. And yet I'm squeezing in about 40-50 hours of work each week. (Yes, that's about how much time it takes to complete 3 sessions a week from start to finish, plus respond to new client inquiries!)
And then this happened:
2. My 4 year old was drawing on her doodle pad and when I asked her a question she replied, "Don't bother me, Mommy - I'm editing." Wonder if she's heard that a few times recently? :( The same day, my 1 year old was playing while I was desperately trying to respond to some e-mails. He was doing that whiny-attention-cry that babies often do when you don't pick them up immediately when I said, "Just a second, honey" (trying not to lose my train of thought). He quickly came over to where I was sitting and pushed the lid of my laptop down as hard as he could as if to say, "ME, Mommy! Pay attention to ME!" He looked at me with those gorgeous big blue eyes and I realized that I'm missing it. I'm capturing all these memories for the families who hire me, but I'm missing my own memories...the ones happening right in front of me, all day long.
So, I'm in search of some balance. I love this job. It doesn't even really feel like a job. I enjoy hanging out with people, making kids giggle, playing peek-a-boo with babies, snuggling with newborns, and oh, my - when I'm privileged to witness a new life entering the world? I feel totally blessed by the opportunities I have right now. But, is it possible to do it all? Maybe. But in order to do it all right, I'm going to have to make some changes.
With that in mind, here are my Two on Tuesday steps toward some balance.
1. I'm instituting "office hours". I always try to answer client e-mails within 24 hours, but realized that I'm answering them 24 hours a day! I am often pulled by the "ding" or pop up notification window when I'm doing something else that tells me I have a new e-mail. (Or the lure of the notification on my new phone if I'm not sitting with the computer). I need to turn that feature off and only respond to e-mails at certain times of the day. I'm thinking one hour in the morning and a few hours in the evening - and only M-F.
2. I will adhere to the times stated to clients for getting their sneak peek and galleries up and for getting orders to them instead of pushing myself so hard to complete them early. Sneak Peeks are up about 48 hours from a session and full galleries are stated to take about 2 weeks. Most of the time, I feel pressured to get them up within a week. I'm not sure if it's my Type-A personality or if it's simply knowing that someone is waiting on something from me that makes me feel as though I need to stay up until 2:30am to finish it before the deadline is even looming. It's funny, too, that I feel such enormous pressure when, on the flip side, I give 10 days for clients to order and almost always, it's the full ten days before I hear back from them!
So, that's it. No more 2am bedtimes, no more "just a minute, honey" to my kids. I am resolving to put my kids and my husband first. I love all of my clients and I am honored that you have chosen me out of the countless photographers and studios in the area and I truly hope that I can continue to offer you superior customer service and beautiful portraits of your family's precious memories. But my New Year begins today, June 1st, 2010. And I'm so excited to share it with my family and yours.
I don't often share photos of my own children on the blog - but saw the title "Mine on Monday" on another photographer's blog and realized I had just the photos - and the story to go with it - to share with you today! I must admit that I haven't taken nearly the number of photos of my own kids as I used to...before I launched this business, that is. But I had it all planned out for Easter weekend - cute outfits were chosen for the kiddos, we would open Easter baskets in our jammies, go to church, brunch afterward as usual, and then we'd do a little "photo shoot" in the backyard.
Well, that didn't happen. What DID happen was a weekend full of sickness, rashes, and hives. My daughter (age 4) had a 104 degree fever off and on the week before Easter and on Saturday morning, woke up with a rash covering her entire body. My son (age 1) woke up from his nap on Saturday afternoon with the largest hives I've ever seen! The evidence:
So, the Easter portraits didn't happen. And then, I was so busy for the following....well, four weeks with births, OpLove deployment sessions and homecomings, family sessions, mini-sessions, preschool volunteering, strawberry picking, (the list goes on!) and those Easter portraits took a back seat. The outfits hung in the hallway taunting me every day. My plan had been to get the kids' portraits taken, edited, and a special Mother's Day gift made for my mom, aunt, & mothers-in-law. Guess when I finally got the pictures done? You guessed it. Last weekend - on Mother's Day. (*insert eye rolling smiley face here*) So, I'm hoping that my mothers-in-law aren't very interested in my blog and won't read this before their present finally arrives (nearly 2 weeks late!).
To make a long story short, here are my babies' Easter pictures - taken in our backyard. It took two tries, a few tears (theirs AND mine :) ), and a very patient husband (Thanks for putting up with me, honey!) but I think it was a success. I'll be featuring a new product on the blog VERY soon (after my in-laws get their presents ;) ) and can't wait to show you how they turned out! Enjoy my cuties - I still marvel at my dark-eyed girl who looks so much like my husband and his side of the family and my blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy who looks like....well, we're not quite sure. Ha!
I hate being photographed. There, I said it. Feels a bit like blasphemy for a photographer to say that, but it's true.
I am just like you. A mom who barely has time to fix her hair and put on makeup, a mom who buys adorable clothing for her children but rarely shops for herself and the mere idea of shopping alone is laughable. I'm also sporting an extra 10 (okay, maybe more like 20) pounds after giving birth twice. I rarely like my hair, my teeth are crooked, and I hate my profile. Have I covered it all?
But, there is one thing I know. My children don't see that. My children think I'm beautiful. I'm their Mommy and they will always love me - no matter the extra pounds or bad hair days. I look back at pictures of my own mother fondly - I love to see the hairstyles, fashion, and fads. But what I really see when I look at those photos is a mother who loves her children. Yes, I see my dad's ZZ Top beard (seriously!) and I laugh at my mom's perm, but what I really see is the connection between a family.
I decided a few months ago that I was sad that there were very few of those photos of my baby boy and I. Since delving into the photography world, I have not had professional photos taken of my family and therefore have been behind the camera. So, I hired the AMAZINGLY talented Amy Sandoval of Amy Sandoval Photography. Her photos just speak to me. While my style is more bold with bright colors, hers have a dreamy look that creates a soft and airy feel. Her use of light is phenomenal and I knew that hiring her would be a great investment - photos to treasure forever!
I was right - just the sneak peek on her blog makes me smile - flaws and all - and I am already scouring my home to find the perfect wall to display these. How I will pick is anyone's guess...but I'll certainly have fun trying!
Oh, and if you are looking for a sexy, yet tasteful gift for your husband, check out her Curves Boudoir site. Someday, when I get the courage (and maybe lose those 20lbs!) I plan to hire her for a session to knock the socks off my hubby! Yes, dear. I really did share that with the world. ;-)