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There are lots of choices today for families wanting to document photographically their current status, from using family friends or relatives with a nice camera, to store front businesses that offer “while-you-wait” portraits at a modest price, to professional photographers at a steeper price point. Families can even do it themselves using the timer function on a digital camera and a good tripod. For most families, it is relatively rare to hire a professional photographer to create a family portrait–most only do it at the most three times in their lifetime. But, if is important enough to you, then only a professional photographer will possess the skills, equipment, and experience to offer the best opportunity for you to have an heirloom-quality portrait to be treasured for generations.

How do you tell which photographers are the real professionals? Well, for one look for those that are members of professional organizations, such as Virginia Professional Photographers Association (VPPA), Professional Photographers of America (PPA), and those that hold the PPA-awarded Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) rating. How then should you select your family photographer? Well, for one you should opt for a photographer that makes you and all your family feel at ease and relaxed, especially if you have young children or pets to include in the portrait. Relationships are extremely important to the photographer, too, and he/she will endeavor to foster a solid, congenial relationship with clients. So,first, look for a photographer that makes you feel comfortable. Next, a professional photographer usually asks for a consultation several days before the photography session. During the consultation, several aspects of your photography session will be covered from clothing, to portrait styles, to locations, to family groupings, etc. In regards to clothing, most pros will advise the family to wear complimentary tones and to make sure no family member wears any colors or designs that will attract attention. The purpose of the portrait is to focus viewers on the faces of the people, not the clothing. During the consultation, you should talk to your photographer about any special groupings you want, such as grandmother and grandkids, mother and daughter, father and daughter, and so on. Most photographers will also discuss whether you desire a formal portrait, a dressy portrait, or a casual portrait. The pro will choose the correct background and lighting scenario to make any of these choices work to complement the clothing and posing of the family.

During the photography session, the photographer should treat every member of your family with respect and patience and explain the different family groupings, or sets, and the posing that he/she is directing. This should all be done at a modest pace so that the entire session can be completed in about an hour. This applies to both studio and location portraiture. Following the photography, the photographer should schedule a return visit to review your images and allow you ample time to select your favorites. Your photographer should also offer advice to assist you in your choices. You also should have different product options, from large wall portraits to albums and print collections. Look also for a photography studio that finishes and prints your chosen images. In that way, you are assured of the highest quality. Some photographers sub this out to supporting labs, but this is generally less than optimal.

What about digital images? Many photographers will include complimentary low-resolution digital images for use on social media, so don’t feel hesitant to ask if these are not mentioned during your consultation. High-resolution digital files are another matter, and professional photographers approach this differently, with some including them when a certain purchase level is reached, some selling the rights to them and others not selling them at all. The issue with this has to do with copyright law. If you do receive high-resolution files, then you should also ask for a letter granting you usage rights so you will be able to print them yourself at some future date if you choose to do so.

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