A helpful guide to finding out if you are looking for cheap senior portraits or Just a really great value…
As a parent of recently graduated seniors, I can attest to the fact that there are a lot of expenses associated with the senior year of high school, and senior portraits can definitely be one of the bigger investments that parents will face.
First thing you notice is that there are a LOT of photographers.
With the relatively low barrier of entry to the field of photography comes a confusing plethora of options for the potential senior portrait client and the options can be overwhelming – particularly when you have a specific budget in mind. Do you go with a seasoned professional studio with an amazing portfolio and dozens of 5 star reviews? Do you trust the up and coming young hobbyist photographer without a lot of history, but is willing to work for next to nothing to get experience and portfolio content?
There may be thousands of dollars of difference between those two options. There can also be a massive difference in quality, experience and service. What are those things worth?
It can really be hard to answer. After all, senior portraits are art and the perceived quality and value of art is often subjective. There are some legitimate super stars who you can catch on their way up and get incredible work at a bargain price, but more often than not, photography is not much unlike any other commodity in that you get what you pay for. The big differences lie in the value of the various elements in your customer experience.
To help sort this out, it helps to focus on the overall value of senior portraits, rather than simply pricing photographers like cars. The following is a bullet point check list for the senior portrait client to answer for themselves as they check out various local photographers. Hopefully you find this guide helpful in quantifying the difference between cheap, and a great value!
You don’t need to write this down, but on a scale of 1-5 stars, rate the following elements of a senior photographer in terms of your own personal priorities. In this exercise, let’s assume the budget you have in mind is valued at a 5.
- Quality of portfolio – is the difference between good and exceptional important?
- Quality of retouching – Ask to see examples of before / after on some of their edits. Do the edits look great or are they too soft and plastic looking?
- Professional experience and reputation. How long have they been in business? How long have they done senior portraits?
- Reviews, Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc. Are 4-5 star reviews important to you?
- Physical studio location – is it important to have this as an option?
- Hair and makeup artist provided – Is the portrait experience important to you?
- Personality, sense of humor – fun to work with? Do they do a free consultation so you can meet them before working together?
- Customized shoot plans based on interests, personality and sports/hobbies?
- Personal referral – do you know someone who has worked with this photographer?
- Good option on packages, services and products?
- Customer Service – is there good follow up and resolution of potential issues?
- Shooting Locations – where do they shoot? What do they have access to?
- How quickly can they turn around your order?
- Is the quality of work and products guaranteed?
- Is the sales meeting done in person? It should be, but it shouldn’t be high pressue.
- Is their work truly unique? Is that important to you?
So, keeping in mind that the value of art is subjective, looking back at your list here, how many items did you rate as 4 or 5 stars? If none of those things rate as highly to you as the bottom line expense, don’t feel bad. That’s a perfectly reasonable priority.
For this, my simple recommendation is to post on Facebook and select the “ask for recommendations” tool, asking for photographer references. You’ll soon be flooded with well intentioned referrals of friends and relatives of photographers of varying price. Simply message the recommended photographers and discuss price. One or more will fit into literally any budget.
However, if many or most (all, even) rated a 4 or better on your list, I respectfully submit to you that you aren’t looking for cheap Tulsa senior pictures so much as you are looking for an excellent value. You want great, unforgettable art but you also want a buying experience that doesn’t break the bank. Facebook’s ask for recommendations feature isn’t going to weigh those numbered factors above as heavily as it will the relationship the replier has to the photographer they are recommending. Their intentions are good, if they are personally invested in a friend or relative who takes photos, that will override other factors in their recommendation.
If you discover that you are shopping on value rather than a price tag, I would recommend a two-part plan of finding the right photographer for you. First, ask friends who’ve had recent seniors who they used and ask them about the experience and if they felt the price was fair, would they recommend the photographer, etc.
Secondly, there’s no substitute for researching the photographers in your market. Some list prices on their websites and some don’t post prices until they’ve had contact from a client. Go ahead and make contact! You might be surprised to find that even photographers who would not be considered inexpensive have incredible incentive programs and payment plans that work within any budget. Mainly, don’t pre-judge yourself or photographers who you would like to work with. Call or email them and ask some questions and get some pricing and then make an informed decision where you’ve weighed the relative value of all the things you found important rather than just the price.
There are few if any moments in life that have such a clear before and after reference in our memories as graduating high school does. If senior portraits are important to you (they aren’t for everyone, and that too is fine!), then striking a balance of quality and price is something you’ll thank yourself for doing in the years and decades ahead when you see these images thousands of times throughout your life and never regret having not settled for cheap.