This post was inspired by one of the most descriptive, educational, and truthful (the non-sugar-coated kind) articles about custom photography I have every read. I highly encourage you to read it, and share with whomever you’d like. It is well written, and of course not meant to be rude, but to educate consumers who have trouble seeing the value in photography. Another great read is by Kat Forder. She explains the misconception of mall photographers being inexpensive. Here is another fantastic blog that explains the costs behind custom photography)

Custom Professional Photography

Wanting your family portraits taken? Thinking of using that mall-photographer that advertises 20+ portraits for under 10$? You may want to think again. Those 20+ portraits are all of the same image in a bunch of different sizes, and over half of them being the small wallet size. Oh, and they charge extra if you want to include more than one person in the photoshoot. If you are looking for ONE portrait every month or your child, that route probably your best option, but keep in mind you will only have access to a limited number of standard backdrops and the camera operators are almost always NOT professionals; they are usually students wanting to make a few bucks evenings & weekends. The mall photographer is your best budget-friendly option if you don’t want to spend more than 300$ on portraits, but that doesn’t mean you get great photographs. If you want great family portraits AND fantastic images of your children together AND individual portraits AND any sort of decent quality print products, than you may want to consider a custom photography experience that last more than 15 minutes…yep, that’s it. In case you are wondering about credibility, I used to work in one of these places for years and have seen the back end of things. While I was able to provide customers with decent images, they were nowhere near the quality of what I can provide in my studio, and the quality of the products they do offer is very questionable as they are not meant to last. 

Custom photography is just that: custom. The photographer works WITH YOU to create memories, and captures them on film (though it’s mostly digital media these days, the concept remains). Professionals know and UNDERSTAND that your fussy 2 year old won’t necessarily make for great portraits in 15 minutes. That’s why we set aside a lot more time than that, and even for shorter mini sessions, we make sure we set aside enough time to capture enough dazzling portraits for the print products we are advertising to be included. This is especially important for time sensitive portrait services like newborn photography. You’re thinking of trusting your precious little miracle to whom is most likely a student working minimum wage at the mall? You may want to think about that twice before making a decision. There are many professional photographers out there who specialize in newborns, such as our partner site: Pure Natural Newborn Photography. Those photographers know that it takes more than 15 minutes to capture more than a few great shots, and that to do so consistently takes knowledge, practice and talent. We put aside a heck of a lot more than 15 minutes (more like 2-4 hours!), and typically more than double the time it takes for a family portrait session, in order to focus on baby. Professionals know that babies are cranky and that they decide their own schedule, and the age old saying truly describes them well: they eat, poop, and sleep. The latter being the main goal for a newborn session. There is no point trying to do a portrait session of any kind if everyone is stressed out. We need an extra 5 minutes to capture a great picture of your son? So be it! Okay portraits is NOT good enough! We should all strive for GREAT or FANTASTIC portraits!

Of course, we all see it coming..the pricing conundrum.  Mall photography is a dying breed; just a few years ago in April 2013, all the USA Wal-Mart and Sears Portrait Studios shut down due to bankruptcy.  Not because just a few dollars either..they were almost 100$ million dollars in debt! 100 MILLION! The Canadian side still exists, but they are owned by the bank because nobody wants to buy a non-profitable business. All these companies really care about in the end is their paycheck, not the customers. You could end up with a fantastic person as your photographer, or a tired & angry employee as your picture-taker. You don’t really have a choice there.. But, you do get what you pay for.. Session is free (sometimes), but no choice of photographer and no guarantees. On average, customers spend 150$ on a family portrait session at a mall photographer. If you want anything large, framed, canvas, digital files or anything other than gift prints, you certainly pay for it. Currently, the largest collection is just under 300$ after taxes. It includes a lot of sub-par, low quality print products, and un-edited (sometimes with mediocre enhancements) digital files. The actual smaller prints are of acceptable quality, but the picture you are printing relies on that small 15 minute window of time you have in the photo-room, whether your photographer is excited or not, the previous family was late or not, or how your kids are feeling that day.. so not always the greatest images.

Custom photography is more that just the products you purchase, it’s an experience for your family (or soon to be family). To make a fair comparison, apples to apples, to purchase all the products described in the collection mentioned above would cost you anywhere from 1000-5000$ depending on the photographer. To purchase them a-la-carte at Wal-Mart would cost you almost 1200$. Yes, you read that correctly, over one thousand dollars. To purchase the same items, of a much better quality, alongside the personalized experience of a professional photographer, with carefully and individually edited images, at the average local photographer would be just over 1800$. Keeping in mind that listed numbers are for demonstration purposes only, we see that there is a difference of about 600$. Not quite as big of difference as you would expect, right?  For much better quality products, an infinitely better experience, and a much larger selection of images and prodcusts.. Think about it. Is the custom experience and superior quality worth the extra 15%? That’s basically just doubling the taxes! Whether or not it’s worth it is entirely up to YOU.  Of course I will always recommend the custom experience, whether you choose do to so with me or with another professional photographer; that is how strongly I believe in the custom photography industry.

Thinking to yourself that this whole custom thing is too expensive? It all depends on what you value. Person A might value buying a 5000$ purse, and Person B would prefer to buy a 5000$ sound system, and Person C might value a 5000$ couch & lounge set for their home. BUT they all look at each other’s item and think “Oh, I can’t afford that!” when they each have the exact same price tag.  For a visual example, see the image below. Would you rather a new laptop or TWO gorgeous 30×40 wall portraits? Whether it’s of your family, children, newborn, yourselves, etc., if it’s worth it to you, you can and will save up for it.

what can you "afford"? a new purse, a new pc, or timeless portraits?

what can you “afford”? a new purse, a new pc, or timeless portraits?

The right question isn’t volume vs. custom, it’s whether or not you value to art of photography at all and how much value you attribute to it.

Think of it this way:  That Tim Horton’s coffee you get every morning is roughly 2$/day (or 5$/day if you’re a Starbucks fan) and even more if you add a muffin, bagel or scone to your routine. That means that if you make your coffee at home for a month and take it to-go in a travel mug you would be saving up 40-100$! That is 500-1200$ per year! Even more if you make your own breakfast! Anything else you could do without for a month, or a few months? Something to think about..