For years now, nearly everyone has had a camera in their pockets, and those cameras keep getting better and better.
This has led to some skepticism about why people should still invest in professional photographers. After all, if everyone has a camera, why should you pay a lot of money to have a professional take photos of your big occasions?
Well, several area photographers are weighing in on that question — and debunking other myths about their profession along the way.
RJ Sloup is a Pocatello-based photographer who has been running his business, Evanescent Studios, for six years. He does senior portraits, engagement and wedding photos, family portraits and creative portrait sessions.
Sloup said it’s important to hire professionals, especially for big life events, because photography is an art form that professionals have spent a lot of time studying and perfecting.
“Everyone has a camera in their pockets nowadays, but they lack basic fundamental artistic skills to do that with a DSLR camera,” Sloup said. “Most phone cameras are very comparable to some DSLRs, and that is simply because technology has advanced so much. When you hire a professional photographer over someone who has a camera phone, you can guarantee that the photographer has spent many hours learning how to use all the functions of their camera.”
Janelle Andersen of Janelle & Co. based in Rexburg also emphasized that good photography takes a lot of skill.
“There is going to be a difference in dedication, skill and talent in a photographer who has been doing events for a long time, than in snapping a quick photo,” said Andersen, who has been a professional photographer for nine years and specializes in weddings and elopements. “We are looking at angles, lighting, leading lines, ratios, so many things. In layman’s terms, we are looking at how to create the best photo, not just simply ‘snap’ a quick photo.”
Plus, possibly one of the last things any couple wants is to try to coordinate photos with wedding guests on their big day.
“Relying on your family and friends to upload and share all of the photos they took on their phones is not a realistic expectation,” Andersen said. “Which camera should you look at? Who is responsible for capturing those moments? Who is going to be willing to take pictures nearly every single minute they are attending your wedding? Guests won’t want to.”
And speaking of wedding guests, “A professional, seasoned photographer will know how to direct people for family photos and make you look amazing in your portraits by choosing flattering angles,” Andersen said. “A photographer has an eye for lighting. We can look at an area and just know if the light is going to be harsh, spotty, dull or perfection. The best lighting will flatter the photographic subject, and not everyone has an eye for that.”
Sloup said there are a lot of situations, especially in a fast-paced environment such as a wedding, that the average person might miss or not be prepared to capture on camera, but a professional photographer will know when to look out for those big moments.
“People hire a photographer because they have ‘the eye’ for catching small details other people can miss,” Sloup said. “So many things happen so fast during big events, like weddings, and some of those moments you cannot re-enact. For instance, the ‘first look’ as a groom sees his bride walk down the aisle. Most photographers know that this is a very important shot and moment in their (clients’) lives and they know not to miss such a thing. All of these things come with experience and continued education within the photography world.”
Brianne Sloan, who has been running her Pocatello-based business Bri Sloan Photography for about four years, said another reason people should invest in a professional is because of the high-quality images they produce.
“Professional photographers invest in high-quality camera gear to deliver high-quality, printable images,” Sloan said. “Have you ever printed an image from an iPhone? It is blurry and oftentimes unable to print in large sizes. Not only that, but so many people just forget they have images on their phone, and they’re never printed, only shared to social media and forgotten. I look at hiring a professional photographer as heirloom ‘insurance’ for your memories.”
Knowing when to capture those moments and how best to do so is part of the reason professional photographers say it’s well worth the money to pay someone who knows what they’re doing. But additionally, a lot of people don’t understand just how much time it takes a photographer to do a photoshoot from start to finish — from consulting and location scouting before the event to editing photos afterward in addition to the hours spent shooting whatever clients want photos of.
Sloup says his favorite sessions are his creative portrait sessions, which are out-of-the-ordinary artistic sessions, generally with models who aren’t getting their photos taken for any special occasion and are instead doing it just for fun.
“They are more creative in the sense of style and themes,” he said. “I like more of the macabre images that you don’t usually see around this area.”
Even if those sessions don’t take as much time overall as shooting something like a wedding, Sloup said they still take him about 15 to 20 hours to complete.
“The process of a photoshoot is much more complex than just showing up and taking a few photos,” Sloup said.
Before the shoot, Sloup consults with the client. After they decide on a theme for the photoshoot, Sloup heads out to find props and clothing that fit the theme and if needed consults with local stylists for hair and makeup. Then he heads out to scout locations, sometimes driving hours and obtaining permits. If he needs an assistant, he coordinates with them as well.
On photoshoot day, he gathers all his equipment and heads out, spending anywhere between one and eight hours on a session and sometimes taking more than 2,000 photos. Once he gets home, he picks out the best photos to edit.
“During the post-editing, I go through and edit lighting, skin tones, blemishes, glares (if they have glasses) and special effects, add textures and finalize the single image,” Sloup said. “Sometimes it takes three to four hours per photo to achieve the exact look I am looking for.”
Once he and the client agree on the final photos, Sloup puts the photos on a jump drive and hand-delivers the final product to his client.
Because of that extensive process, Sloup feels that his work is worth what he charges for it — but he also encourages people to find something in their price range as long as they think they’ll still be happy with the final result if they go with someone who charges less.
“I have heard complaints about pricing because of the readily available camera phones that are out there,” he said. “‘Wow that is a lot’ or ‘My friends can do it’ is something that I have heard many times. I respect everyone’s decision to go with a photographer that fits their needs, and I will back up what I charge, knowing what I have invested in. … Photography is an investment, and you get what you pay for. You are not just paying someone to push the shutter button; you are paying for a small business, their education, their equipment and their specialized skill.”
Sloan, who photographs weddings, couples and families and also does commercial photography, said she knows and understands that at first the cost of hiring a photographer, especially for a wedding, can seem excessive.
“However,” she said, “photography is not just the time I spend taking photos — a wedding on average is a minimum of 40 hours of editing the images to make them perfect.”
Andersen also goes through a time-consuming process for each client she works with, starting with a welcome email — and then a lot more emails..
“Once they decide to book, I put together a contract for them, and they pay a deposit/reservation fee,” she said. “Then lots more emails and another phone call. Sending vendor recommendations, talking over with brides how their moms want something different than them. Easing fears about XYZ. We create a Google doc with all their wedding day details, arrival times, locations, photo requests.”
And that’s all before the wedding day.
On the wedding day, “I am charging batteries, cleaning lenses, clearing off photocards, making sure that all of my equipment is in working order,” Andersen said. “Pack my bag with everything I’ll need for the day. Travel one to five hours for a wedding shoot. Shooting in hot sun or coldest weather. Posing couples and brides in flattering ways, making sure to keep their personality present while documenting their wedding day and capturing images that are still true to brand. Zipping up dresses, holding trains and flowers, putting on the groom’s boutonniere because no one else knows how to, or there simply is no one else to (during elopements). Directing 40 wedding guests to get into a photo and being nice bossy. Diffusing tension when the client’s parents are divorced and don’t want to be in a photo together.”
Then she comes home and has yet more work to do.
Andersen describes her post-wedding process as such: “Uploading photos to the computer. Sorting through 3,000 photos from three cameras and choosing the best ones to edit. Renaming rated photos. Importing photos into Lightroom. Apply a preset to help with consistency in editing style. Make individual adjustments based on lighting, color, etc. Crop photos, do other adjustments. Export photos. Sort through/cull once more, pull select photos into photoshop for additional editing if needed. Rename all files. Feeling ambitious? Import into Lightroom again and do a (black and white) edit on all photos, export and rename. Create gallery in online storage. Upload photos. Create print release document and upload. Email gallery to client with detailed printing instructions and recommendations. Post sneak peeks while all of that is happening to Instagram and Facebook. Choose favorite images and upload into blog. Try to remember any details that are important to their love story to include in their blog post. Include SEO tags to boost google results. Email client a request for review on Facebook and Google.”
All of that takes Andersen between 23 and 33 hours to finish a single project.
Andersen said she doesn’t often hear complaints about her pricing — which starts at $400 for engagements, $1,200 for elopements and $2,500 for weddings. Instead, she says, people more often just don’t get back to her.
“In this day and age, I think people are just more likely to ghost you, and I’m totally OK with that,” Andersen said. “I will have some inquiries who will kindly respond they’ve decided to go another route because I’m too expensive. I’ve learned not to take it personally. I can do all of the explaining in the world about why my services are worth it, but at the end of the day, people still have budgets they are working with, and I would never recommend a couple to go into debt for my services. Heck, I can’t even afford myself sometimes!”
Sloan says she has heard complaints about what she charges — her starting price is $900 for a wedding — but that the prices are set there for a reason.
“Pricing for photographers is based on the cost of running the business — which includes insurance, taxes, gear, travel, paying themselves, the editing programs, online galleries, computer, etc.,” she said. “The gear itself is usually well over $5,000. It can really add up.”
Andersen said the best thing about her job is happy clients.
“There are clients that I feel like I instantly connect with and I’m sad when their wedding is over,” she said. “I love seeing the prints they choose, and the photos they love the most. I love reading that I made them feel comfortable and that they had fun. Or that I made them feel beautiful and like themselves despite thinking they were awkward. I love getting to be one of their trusted professionals on their wedding day, that they chose me to document such a momentous day for them. Some of the best wedding days are where my couple is so down to hike a mile to their ceremony location, dip their toes in the water, and have so much fun, and then be so romantic! I can honestly say I’ve never had a bridezilla.”
What is some other flimflam these professionals would like to debunk about photography?
“While photography can be expensive, most of us are not ‘just in it for the money,’” Andersen said. “We are photographers because we have a passion about documenting your wedding, your family, your milestones, your memories so that you can remember them for a long, long time! We just also feel we deserve to be able to feed our families, pay our bills and still enjoy life, too!”
“I would like to debunk that photographers just have fancy cameras and that they are too expensive to get your pictures taken,” Sloup said. “Both statements are false. Photographers spend so much time learning so many little details about every camera they use. Next time you pick up a DSLR camera, try using manual mode and notice all the icons, graphs and numbers that change with every click of the shutter. Photography is an amazing world, and I am happy to be a part of it. Also, we have an amazing group of photographers in this area. If you are wanting to get a professional session done, there are options for every budget. Also, if you look at your pictures as an investment, it drastically changes how you see the final results. I am lucky to have worked with so many amazing local photographers in our community, and I can guarantee that there is the perfect photographer out there for every single client.”
While Sloan didn’t have anything to debunk, she did offer this piece of advice.
“Print your photos! Thirty years from now, Facebook and Instagram probably won’t be around,” Sloan said. “Photos are the only tangible item we have to vividly capture memories.”