Over the past 10 years, big-box-studios have slowly trickled out of business and out of public favor, only to be replaced by the growing popularity of custom photography. Consequently, consumers have more and more choices apart from theme-y backdrops and stiff poses. Personalization is the trademark of the 21st century; practically everything now can be customized exactly to our liking, including photography. If you're like me, though, sometimes too many choices can be a little overwhelming. So with so many photographers offering so many different styles, products, experiences, and price ranges, how are you supposed to sort out what you actually need/want in order to be happy with the end result?

It's an important decision after all because that end result lives on for generations. How do you want to be seen 50 years from now when your grandkids look at those photos? What do you want to remember about your kids at this age? Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when looking for a photographer before your hire him/her.

1. What kinds of photos do I like?

Ok, so I realize this may seem like an obvious one, but it's crucial! Every custom photographer is different and now that you have the choice about getting what you want, you should take a look around and figure out what style you like best! Some people take what's called a lifestyle approach in which sessions are completely candid peeks into everyday life. Often, these sessions take place in your home and capture everyday happenings for a very raw and real approach. Do you like more direction? Do you like dramatic lighting effects or soft and creamy sunlight? Do you prefer vibrant color or matte finishes? Spend some time browsing around sights like Pinterest and pulling pictures that really stand out to you and make you feel something.

children's photography natural light

2. What do I want to DO with my photos?

If you just want photos to stick in a box so you can check "family photos" off the to-list, you probably don't need to hire a professional in the first place. Otherwise, think of the impact you want them to have now and later.

  • Is there a glaringly empty wall in your living room that could use some nice artwork? (Is there any better art than the smiles of your own kids??!)

  • A pretty album of your kids might be the perfect present for grandma...

  • How about some updated frames for the bookcase?

And while you're thinking about that,

  • Do you value higher quality products & custom pieces?

  • Do you have an eye for design to pick the best options and displays?

It's important to keep in might the extent to which you want to display and preserve your photos when choosing your photographer because of how he/she can assist you in making that happen. Which brings us to the next question.

linen photo album

3. How much time am I willing to invest in this process?

Your personal time and effort in the process of having photos organized, taken, printed, and displayed is drastically affected depending on what photographer you choose. It can be a long, sometimes complicated, often frustrating undertaking amidst everyday life, one that often gets pushed to the bottom of the list and forgotten. If that's a familiar scene to you, you should recognize that fact and find a photographer who's job description includes taking care of all of that for you. This is probably where custom photography businesses differ the most. You can find photographers who will a. simply meet you at a location, snap some pictures with a nice camera, then give you the CD of images and leave you to the rest.

b. plan everything from your wardrobe to the location for you, retouch every image with professional software and skill, then meet with you to custom design the best products for your needs and budget and hand-deliver them to you with a smile

There is, of course, lots of middle ground between these two options and the personality, efficiency, and quality care of your photographer can make or break either. The bottom line for this question, however, is in order to have a positive experience with your session from start to finish, you need to be honest about what you are willing to invest from your personal life in order to get products you and your relatives can enjoy in a timely fashion.

couples beach photo

How often will I have photos taken?

Every 6 months? Every year? Every few years? Is this a once in a lifetime thing? For budgets and for planning, this is important to recognize! Some photographers offer packages that will save you money for your loyalty. This is a great thing for kids, too because they will feel more and more comfortable around that crazy person behind the lens each time you return. Sticking with one person also means you know what to expect, can form a friendly working relationship, and if you like the results, that's even less stress off your plate. If it's your first venture into custom photography, all these benefits are even more reason to get it right the first time.

young girl outdoor photoshoot

What kind of person do I like working with?

Maybe this seems unrelated, but trust me, it's not. No matter what kind of photographer you choose and how little or how much they are involved in the process from start to finish, there is bound to be a good amount of communication via email, phone, and in person. Everything is more pleasant if you actually like the person to whom you're speaking. What kind of vibe do you get when you communicate? (And yes, you definitely should have some communication before any money is exchanged.)

  • Do you feel at ease asking questions?

  • Do you feel like you can be yourself around him/her?

  • Do you share a similar sense of humor? Does he/she have a sense of humor?!

  • Do you feel like you can trust him/her?

    Remember, this person is going to be working with your kids, with your personal life, maybe even in your home. Liking your photographer and trusting his/her values is just as important as the quality of his/her work.

baby feet with rings

Hopefully these questions will help you feel more prepared for your first or next custom photography experience. Choice is a great thing as long as you are educated about your options!