Are Expensive Professional Photographers Obsolete or Still Worthwhile?

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photographers, pictures, frugal living, frugality, saving money, wedding spending

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis. Travis is a customer blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services, and also appears weekly at Enemy of Debt.  Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off $109,000 of credit card debt and the tips he’s learned along the way. As a father and husband, he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.

My son was confirmed over the weekend, and as we were getting ready to leave for the church, my wife asked me if I had filled out the picture order form.

It was the last straw. 

It started with the beginning of the new school year last fall.  The kids put on their newly purchased school clothes for the first time.  Both of my kids headed off to school picture day carrying an envelope with a check for $28 to pay for the the middle of the road package we normally buy.  In October came the email with the opportunity to purchase pictures from the Twin Cities Marathon which I completed just a week prior.  I really just wanted one picture, which would have cost me $25.  No thank you. Spring time school pictures rolled around in March, which we usually skip.
How much does a kid change in six months anyway?

Things really picked up at the end of the school year with pictures for Dance ($24), baseball ($28), and  Middle School Graduation Class Photo ($10).  Luckily, we’ve moved on from thinking pictures with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are necessary as well. 
There I stood looking at the choices available for confirmation pictures shaking my head.
Photography is big business because people want a record of their lives to look back and reflect upon.  Kids grow up fast, and parents feel guilty not being able to perfectly remember everything about their child at every phase of their life. 
Parents like to show other people their kids.  Photo packages come with pictures of all shapes and sizes to be displayed in offices and end tables everywhere.  Of course, there’s also the wallet size pictures that parents exchange with each other like trading cards and the photo magnet to stick on the refrigerator. 
But just how much use do you really get out of those pictures?  For our family, the 8×10 of each kid goes in a frame next to the fireplace, a 5×7 goes in my office frame and some get given away to family.  The rest stay in the envelope and get shoved in a drawer only to eventually settle to the bottom with the envelopes from previous years.  The pictures we give away end up in a frame for some period of time, then they too either get shoved in a drawer.  Or, they may be hidden behind the next year’s picture pressed together with the pictures from previous years like a layered time capsule.
The insane thing is that pictures themselves are dirt cheap.  I can take a picture and send it off to Walmart online and in an hour I can pick up as many 4×6 pictures as I want for 9 cents each.  What you’re really paying for is the photographer’s talent, time, and the rental of his professional equipment.
Years ago, the concept of using a professional photographer made sense.  Once upon a time, there was this thing called film that you put in a camera.  When the roll was used up, you took it to a local drug store and crossed your fingers that at you kept your finger out of the lens for at least one picture.  Hiring a photographer was essentially a guarantee that you would get decent pictures. 
But does it really make sense today? 

Times have certainly changed with digital cameras.  A person can take a picture and view it instantly.  If you don’t like it, you just delete it and yell, “One more!”  Technology makes getting a good shot so much easier especially with today’s high resolution cameras that are light years ahead of cameras that even the professionals used just a few years ago.   You can take dozens of rapid fire shots and be assured that you’ll capture a keeper.  Now that almost every phone includes a camera, digital photography is almost impossible to avoid.
If the purpose of taking photographs is to capture the stages and events of life, wouldn’t you want to take you own pictures anyway?  Let me ask you this:  What offers a better remembrance of your child: A stranger snapping a picture of Johnny with his hair combed perfectly sitting in front of an artificial backdrop, or you capturing him looking at back over his shoulder at you excitedly, but with just a little bit of fear in his eyes as he climbs aboard the school bus for his very first day of kindergarten?
Pictures like that capture the very essence of life.

The pictures we did buy over the course of the last nine months cost $118 for about 40 pictures.  In contrast, to physically print out pictures I took myself through Walmart, those 40 pictures would have cost less than $5. 
Grab your phones and your digital cameras people.  Take pictures.  Lots of pictures.  Capture those special events and those smiles.
Capture life.



How about you all? Do you think professional picture prices are out of control, or are they worth it? How much do you pay for pictures during a year?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Comments

  1. Emily @ evolvingPF says:

    I had no idea schools and teams were still running that racket. I grew out of those pictures around the time digital photography went mainstream so I assumed that no one bought them any longer.

    I do think there is a place fo professional photography for certain events if you value pictures (weddings) but every 6 months like clockwork isn't it IMO.

    • Oh yes, they do still run that racket, Emily. 🙂 The funny thing is, even though they are “professional pictures,” the guy doing it is a guy I work with as a software engineer. It's his side gig – and he basically has a really nice digital camera on a tripod. All the parents snap pics of their kids standing around waiting, but when they line up for the “real” picture everyone feels awkward taking their own. Weird.

  2. myfijourney says:

    I do photography as a hobby and you would be surprised at how many photos you have to take in order to have one that doesn't suck, especially if you want to frame it or use it for a greeting card or whatever. And this assumes that you have reasonable control over the lighting, have a good camera, and a basic understanding of composition (not photographing into the sun, the rule of thirds, etc). You're likely to spend more time taking pictures than enjoying the event. So yes, I think professional photographers have their place.

    A better question is just how many professional pictures do you really need. I think you can easily make a case for important life events like confirmations, graduations, or weddings. But I'm not so sure that you need to drag your kids in to have their pictures taken every year. Nor am I convinced that everyone you've ever met really wants a picture of your kids sent to them at Christmas.
    My recent post The 7 Incarnations of Money

    • LOL, myfijourney – you're right about the need for pics of your kids as Christmas. We actually figured that one out and only bought one button that went on a wreath which now shows the kids growing up as you go around the wreath. I think that sports team pictures are worthless at this point – even though I just plunked down money to buy some. I wish I would have just taken my own picture of him called it a day.
      My recent post The Biggest Ripoff EVER

  3. Your pics are cheap compared to mine! Dance would have been $45 for the smallest package. School photos are about as expensive–but I homeschool! I take the kids to Picture People for individual photos–even individual “team” photos.
    My recent post Managing My Workload

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