The Inherent Risks of Amateur Photographers

When you are in the market for something, anything really, you do your research to get the best product and for some cost is also a factor. In the world of services, I strongly believe in NOT letting cost make my decision for me, and letting quality service and product lead the way.

For example: If I want to have a nice cake for my niece’s birthday, I could make it myself and end up with something delicious, yet not exactly visually appealing (I can’t make pretty food to save my life, ha ha), and it would probably cost me around 20$ if made from scratch and used all ingredients I already had at home. OR I could hire a professional baker for something that tastes great, looks fabulous, and could potentially cost quite a bit more. Or I could go online and find someone who could make a similar cake as mine, maybe a bit nicer looking, for about the same or a little more than if I were to make it myself.  I’m sure most of you have heard of Buddy the Cake Boss? Well, he can create some pretty fantastic works of edible art! The thing is, I don’t need that particular product nor do I particularly like that style of crazy-fancy cakes. I did a little local research and found these two places that caught my eye for style: and Since my family has quite a few nut allergies, it is an obvious choice for me to choose the first option, provided their customer service is great and they are available on my schedule requirements. Oh look, it also happens to be almost 3 times the price as my DIY option, and quite more than twice the price of any amateur cake maker I found in local classifieds (I didn’t bother posting them because they weren’t exactly very nice looking, even if they tasted fabulous..I mind as well have made it myself).

In the photography world, the debate is quite similar.. Yes, you could use your little point-and-shoot camera to snap a few images of your baby and it wouldn’t cost you anything. OR, you ask “uncle bob” or search the local classifieds for an amateur or student who would be willing to photograph your baby for merely asking you to pay for their time and cost of products (in most cases, the disk to hold the images they are giving you). OR, you could hire a professional photographer who would do more than just shoot some photos and burn a disk. That professional actually knows and understand how to use his/her camera, has advanced knowledge on how to carefully and safely photograph a newborn, in addition to artfully editing the images to make sure they are the art you are paying them for, and can offer you a plethora of high quality products. You aren’t simply paying for the professional’s time, you are also paying for their expertise so they can “get the job done” properly. I could sit here all day and tell you why hiring a professional is better, but since it should be an obvious choice I won’t bother explaining just yet. The thing is, photography is a luxury product. Nobody is entitled to having their child of family photographed; it is NOT a right or a privilege. One must work for it, save up the money, and then they get to enjoy the luxury of a photography experience. Yes, an experience, a family event. Not just sitting there for 5 minutes & done.

There will always be amateurs, because all professionals started from somewhere. You just need to be careful of fauxtographers; amateurs who market themselves as professionals, yet often have no idea what they are doing and are trying to charge professional rates. Those are the people you need to be weary of; the ones who undercut the professionals and deteriorate the industry. They lead the idea that it’s completely acceptable to charge under 200$ for a session and include all the digital files and print rights.. NO! Our time is worth much more than that, even amateurs’ time is worth more than that. Why you ask? Because that 200$ actually equates to about 4-6$ an hour. Yep, HALF of minimum wage. All the behind-the-scenes work that you don’t know about or see is still photographers working. We spend 1-4 hours with you at the session, but we also spend 10-20 hours editing your portraits, a few more communicating with you, and the costs of doing business also plays a factor. The more the cost of doing business goes up, so do the rates. That’s why amateurs and students are able to charge very little or nothing at all, they don’t actually run a business, they are just a guy or gal with a camera having some fun. Technically they shouldn’t be charging at all, but that’s another discussion altogether. If they actually want to get into business, they should be “portfolio-building” which means practising. Before you can build a portfolio, you need to have acquired certain skills, so starting with inanimate objects. Before even thinking about charging, they should be testing their camera settings on anything and everything to actually learn how the camera works, how it works in different lighting scenarios, and they should be doing it in Manual mode. Once they have learnt how their camera works in many different environments, then they can begin testing on people, usually friends and family for free to make sure what they learnt photographing inanimate objects still applies to humans. Most does, but certain things change. Then, if they are truly ready, they should register their business with the province/state, and start researching the right type of insurance for their type of business. Then and only then, should they be able to calculate their costs of doing business (annual licencing, business insurance, equipment use, editing software, products, TIME, etc.). From that number (CODB) they can then calculate how much their should be charging. I will be going over this in detail in another post for those of you actually wanting to get into a photography career, but basically start with your CODB and factor in the net salary you want to make, and calculate from there. Don’t forget that businesses pay taxes, so factor that in too. You will eventually get to how much you should be making per session to break even, and another number in order to make your desired net salary. THAT is what you should charge  (something in between those two numbers. Not 300$ “cause you feel like it”, or “cause you think people will pay it”, or “cause that’s what “joe-photo” down the road charges”.

Are you starting to understand the risks of an amateur yet? Most try to photograph people too soon, charge way too little than if they were actually running a successful business, and often enough have no clue what they are doing. Even myself, a professional newborn photographer, wasn’t always a professional. I was an amateur too. I learned how to use my camera, and did it mostly through friends and family, and my trusted household items. When I finally decided to start specializing and only photographing newborns and maternity/family, I already had a limited background in general photography, but let me tell you.. Newborn Photography is a whole different ballgame! Your first order of business is to research HEAVILY on Newborn Safety. And people are so quick to buy a ton of props and “give it a try” when they have no clue how to safely pose a newborn, nor completely understand how to control and use lighting (even natural light needs skills) or even their camera. Even DIY newborn sessions are so risky because  new parents have no clue that these gorgeous images floating around the web are actually fake. Yep, fake: they are photoshopped. Do you really think parents put their little baby hanging in a tree!? NO! It’s photoshopped.

hanging newborn photo - safety tips

Safety First. Always. — This pair of images courtesy of Sarah Sweetman Photography.

How about those “popular” photos with babies in glass jars? NO! That is soo dangerous because they can snap at any moment and rip through the baby’s arteries. Newborns also cannot hold their heads up themselves, so doing the “froggy pose” can actually snap their spines if done without support. A LOT of amateurs don’t know these things, or cannot successfully use photoshop, so attempt it “in camera, aka real life” with a real live baby.. Take the time and research your photographer, amateur or not. Make they understand the safety precautions required for newborn and baby photography.

Safety First. Always. -- This trio of images provided by Sarah Sweetman Photography.

Safety First. Always. — This trio of images provided by Sarah Sweetman Photography.

Okay, so let’s go point form to recap:

RISKS of an amateur:

  • they may not actually know how to use their camera
  • they probably don’t know how to use editing software
  • they most likely will not be able to offer you any products
  • they may not know the safety precautions required for their setups
  • the don’t have a business, or insurance, or much experience

BENEFITS of an amateur

  • you’ll get all the {mediocre} images (including out-takes) on a disk [maybe this belongs in risks too]
  • you’ll get your images back really super fast (because they don’t edit them) [again, maybe this belongs in risks too]
  • you’ll pay very little or nothing at all [again, along the lines of “you get what you pay for”, this might be a risk too]

So really, the only “benefit” is that you can get mediocre service for cheap or free. But that’s nothing new. You wouldn’t expect to pay a professional if they only gave you mediocre service right? Like A&P’s slogan of “it’s fresh or it’s free”. Why would you pay for sub-par or expired food products? So why would you pay for sub-par service? Beats me..

And on that same premise, the only “risk” of hiring a professional is that you pay a little more, might wait a little longer, and might have to pay extra for more products. But is it really a risk if you did your research before and made sure this was the right photographer for YOU. Nope. Keeping in mind that the extra cost is for extra, better service. Therefore not quite comparable.. Like comparing a Motel8 to The Fairmont or a Resort; just doesn’t quite work..

Because it is very important for me to mention, not all amateurs are bad! All professionals start as amateurs. It’s just that not all hobbyists take the time to become amateurs, and in turn take the time to learn necessary basic skills before advertising to friends and family (or the public, making them a fauxtographer). You could completely luck out and catch an amateur at the end of their portfolio building stage who is quite good and just hasn’t taken the leap to referring to themselves as a professional (usually because they haven’t registered their business officially). Basically, the point is: DO YOUR RESEARCH and don’t be afraid to pay for quality service.

Time + Talent + Education = Skills & Knowledge. Want proof? Below are a collection of images from my progression from amateur transitioned to professional. There were more sub-par practice images from before 2012, but they were before I fully decided to take on the task to learn to be a real photographer. My baby days started in 2012, so these start from when I was portfolio-building for my newborn photography speciality, AFTER I had learnt to properly use my camera and equipment. Two years later, I felt I had the skills and and I am confident enough to officially open up the newborn sub-division and professional baby photography studio.  Thank for taking the time to read and effort to understand.

Stephanie's Photographs, early 2012.

Stephanie’s Photographs, early 2012.

newborn reagan 4 stephanie's photographs

Stephanie’s Photographs, mid 2012.


Stephanie’s Photographs, late 2012.


Stephanie’s Photographs, early 2013.

Stephanie's Photographs, mid 2013.

Stephanie’s Photographs, mid 2013.

Stephanie's Photographs, early 2014.

Stephanie’s Photographs – Gatineau Newborn Photography, early 2014.

newborn twins in bowl with brown faux fur and grey hat

Stephanie’s Photographs – Gatineau Newborn Photography, early 2014.

Stephanie’s Photographs – Gatineau Newborn Photography, mid 2014.

Time allows us to continuously improve our skills, refine our style, and be the best artist we can be. The last two years of specializing in newborns has really taught me a lot, and as you have noticed, the time also allowed me to be a much better photographer in general.

If you would like to book your newborn session with Stephanie’s Photographs – Gatineau Newborn Photography, please contact me. Child, Family, and Maternity portraits sessions also offered.
Stephanie de Montigny
(613-) 371-4594

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