If you are reading this post and you are a family client of mine (Courtney Lively Photography), please know that this post is not intended for you. I already know that you see the value in what I do. I know you see me hustling, and I know you cherish the experiences you have with me and the imagery I have created for you, recently or in the past. I have been blessed with incredible clients. And yet, there still may be parts of this post that you can relate to or learn from, and so please feel free to read on! I am writing this post as an experienced photographer to be a voice for those who struggle to find the words for their own clients. As well, if you are a business client of mine, this is also not for you, as most businesses have had enough experiences in media to know and understand the value of a good and reliable photographer.

Dear Family Photography Clientele,
I know sometimes it feels like you are paying a-whole-lot of money for your family photos! Whether you are paying $150 or $3000+, I understand that it’s all relative, and for many, whatever the amount is, it can feel like a lot. So, it’s important that as photographers we take time to educate our clients so you can have a better understanding of all that goes into what we do. Hopefully knowing more will take a bit of the sting out when it’s time to sign that check, hand over your credit card, or hit send on your payment app.

When it comes to hiring a photographer, you will have many choices…. There are a lot of us out there! So the good news is, the power is in your hands. You can pick a photographer based on style, price, experience-level, trust, personality, or a combination of any of those, but with that choice will come what you pay for, as well as the experience and end-product you receive.

What exactly are you investing in?
I hear so many people say, “we just need a few good shots…” Gosh, I know it seems so simple… and maybe it can be, in that simple moment that you are imagining in your head. And if truly what you want is for it to be that simple… I empower you to grab a neighbor or a friend with a high-quality camera phone and ask them to come over for a few minutes to take a couple cute pix of your fam while you’re already dressed up for something else anyways. Honestly, you likely will come out of that with a few good shots and it is a GREAT option if you are looking for simplicity. However, if you are going to hire a professional, or anyone for that matter, if you are going to pay for services, you should have a higher expectation for what you want, and what you will get. And with that said, if you are going to take the time to go out and purchase new outfits for the fam, get everyone dressed and ready (and in good moods), possibly pay for hair and make-up… Maybe move around work and activity schedules…. If you are going to do ALL of that, you probably want more of a guarantee that you will get shots that you love. Shots that will make the whole process feel worth it. Imagery that when you look at it, makes you take a deep breath with tears in your eyes and say, I made the right choice.

But here’s the thing, there are no guarantees in family photos – there are so many variables involved in the entire process. Perhaps that’s why experience-level of the photographer could be a great priority in making your choice. But, I was an inexperienced photographer once too, and I will forever be indebted to the families that TRUSTED in me anyways. I know many of them still cherish those images from many moons ago when I was really just winging it, and perhaps maybe some just chose to show me grace, as they knew the experience I gained from their shoot was a helpful stepping stone as I worked towards my goals and grew stronger in my work.

What Family Photographers Must Work Through:
But first, let’s talk about some potential variables that family photographers could be working against as they try to create beautiful imagery for you… Shy kiddos, busy kiddos, grumpy parent, frustrated parent, nervous family members, cute but distracted pets, unexpected weather, unexpected lighting, clothing malfunctions, location issues. Location, location, location is SO important! Please know that your photographer has likely spent a ridiculous amount of time looking for and scouting a good location to host your shoot. It’s not just about the location, it’s about the way the light falls over your favorite parts of that location at the times you will be shooting, so there is much to be considered in picking a location. If the shoot is in your home or a location of your choice that the photographer is unfamiliar with, understand that they are doing their best to scout a location and make background and lighting decisions on the go, within new surroundings, all while keeping everyone comfortable, calming nerves, entertaining kids and creating an overall positive experience. If the photographer does decide to scout the unfamiliar location ahead of time (on their own time), that could be helpful, but also know that is an act of care by your photographer that should not go unnoticed. For me, during my busy seasons, I unfortunately don’t usually have time to scout all unknown locations (because there are many) before shoot day. If you want to ensure that your photographer feels comfortable in the location that you have chosen for them, there is always the option of paying for their time to scout the location ahead of time.

The Many Hats of a Photographer:
Often times I feel like I am not JUST a photographer (how most of the world sees me)…. and in-fact, most of the time I feel like the actual photography is the smallest amount of what I do! I’m a business owner, I’m a scheduler, I’m an editor (hours and hours of lonely time behind a computer), I’m a family psychologist (of sorts), I’m an entertainer of children, I’m a prop and backdrop designer, I’m a smile maker, I’m a light and beauty seeker, I’m a marketing guru, I’m an artist, I’m a contract writer, I’m a networker, I’m a maker of calm and peace and fun, I’m a saleswoman, I’m a master of my tools, and an overall hardworking human who cares deeply about my customers. I’m sure I forgot many of my roles in there but I don’t want to waste too much time going into all that it takes to run a photography business and create beautiful imagery. My point is that these are important things to consider when you think about what you are paying for when you hire a photographer. You are not just paying for someone to show up and take a photo. If it were that simple, then yes of course, it would not be so expensive!

Costs Involved in Being a Professional Photographer:
Honestly, I hate talking about this part… It’s probably why I saved it for last, but it is an important part of understanding your investment as the customer, so I will give you a small amount of insight… My favorite camera body and lens combination that I own right now cost me $3,500 in total to buy. And that’s just ONE of many – I have multiple camera bodies and multiple lenses (some more expensive than the one listed above), flashes, studio lights, backdrops, tri-pods (the list goes on) not because I’m a gear junkie, but because I HAVE to, as a professional, to be able to offer the variety in my work that I need to make available to my clients. And so that I have back-up gear in case something breaks during a shoot. To give you insight into some more unexpected expenses you may not already know about (aside from things like education, computers, editing software, digital gallery services…) my professional grade cameras shoot on two (tiny) memory cards at time, again, to safely back-up my work in case a card malfunctions (and they do). One, just ONE of those cute little tiny professional grade memory cards costs me upwards of $100… I need at least 10-12 memory cards on-hand during busy season, and we are supposed to get new cards each year in order to avoid malfunctions… The amount of money involved in being a GOOD professional photographer is endless. And the truth is, if I had my druthers I would own much higher-quality gear! It truly does effect the quality of your imagery once you know what you’re doing… But the cameras I dream about at night are upwards of $10,000 and frankly, that’s just not in the cards for me right now. And, to be clear, I’m OK with that. My set-ups offer me high-quality imagery and results that I love – the only point in me sharing that with you is so that you understand that even my $3,500 set-up is far from the best. Great imagery can be taken on all kinds of cameras (when the person taking the image knows what they’re doing) it’s true… but there is a reliability and quality in more expensive gear that’s important when it comes to being a professional. There was a time in my career, not that long ago, where I truly felt that I shot simply so that I could make money so that I could afford the gear I needed to shoot at the level I wanted to. A bit of a tough pill to swallow and yet, I persisted. 😉

In Conclusion:
In conclusion I want to say that whether you pay $150 for your family photography or $3000+ – I hope now, you see why you should feel confidence in your choice and investment, whatever it is. Every photographer brings their own unique styles, abilities and specialties to the table. They have without a doubt invested time, money and education into their trade. You can receive great imagery and a great experience at any level of the pricing spectrum. But know that if you are paying at the lower end of that spectrum, it is very likely that your photographer is not making ANY money off of you after their time and expenses are considered. They are likely simply trying to build their customer-base and experience-level, and therefore are offering lower prices in order to do so. Good for them! And if that photographer delivers products and experiences that consistently make their customers happy…. That photographer WILL get busy, and exhausted, and will have to eventually raise their prices to keep their sanity. And as we know about supply and demand, they will obviously deserve to do so! Bravo to them! At that point, as their customer, you can decide if you want to hang with them as they grow and continue to invest in their more and more reliable art that you already know speaks to you, or find another up and coming photographer you’d like to take a risk on, with a price you are more comfortable with, all while knowing you will be a significant part of their growth. Both options are great ones, in my opinion!

It seems a bit silly to me to take the time to break this down in this way… and I wonder if anyone will actually take the time to read it. But at the end of the day, understanding the value of family photography really is something I think many people truly don’t understand, and we, as photographers, can’t get be upset at people for not understanding if we never take the time to explain it. So here it is, I hope it’s helpful to fellow family photographers and families making choices about investing in photography, alike! And thank you to anyone who made it this far in my letter…. The simple act of you reading this all the way through means that you care!

Sending out peace and love to all!


Courtney Lively