Captured Bliss Photography

Custom Photography…Why So Much?

Posted on: December 5, 2011

So I heard it again this morning, and it just got me.  “I just loooooooooooove your work but I can’t see spending that much on you when I can go to X place (I’ll give you a hint…rhymes with “CallMart” and is full of nearly anything available for purchase under the sun) and get a better deal.”  Let me make sure you got the most important part of that– a better deal.

Ok.  I understand we’re in a recession.  I understand not everyone WANTS custom photography (this is not always about the money, I know that).  Some people (some of my own family members included!!) think that “real” photography is what Olan Mills does– very posed, static shots that were all the rage in the 80s, 90s, and still somewhat today.

BUT.  And I have to throw in a but here, because honestly, I’m not sure that you’re necessarily getting a better deal from a big-box store who offers a photo center, or from Olan Mills, or Portrait Innovations, or any of those places.  Why?  Because, while they ARE less expensive (sort of– we’ll get to that in a minute), they’re giving you a completely different experience than what I do.

Let me explain. When you contact me about a session, I immediately get to work.  Starting with that initial point of contact, my brain is working.

I will call you.  We will have a conversation– Where will we shoot? How can I best serve you, my paying client? What are your goals for the session? What are MY goals? What poses/environments will work best for us? What is it that YOU want MOST from this session– are you looking for one good shot for your Christmas card? Are you looking for gift prints to use at holidays? Do you want a large photo of your kids and your dogs to put over your fireplace? Are you looking for the perfect photo to put on the gorgeous handbag you’re planning to order? Do you want an album to display ALL of the pictures? Is this a super top secret surprise session (I’ve done them!)??

Your big box chains are not going to call you.  They are not going to ask you what YOU want, other than, “What background would you like?” and maybe,”Do you want to sit on the left or the right?”

After our conversation, my work continues.  If you’re looking for a new location, one I haven’t used before, I’m going to drive there.  I’m going to scout it out, find the best lighting, wrack my brain to find the best areas in which to shoot.

Your big box chain is not going to scout a location for you, since you’re going to be in their studio and have about 80 square feet in which to be photographed.

Then I’m going to move on to my BFF, the Internet.  I’m going to get some inspiration from my sources (you didn’t really think I’d put them all on here, did you?? 😉  There’s got to be some mystery!!)  I’ll look for ideas for groups that are similar to yours and come up with a mental (always!) and written (sometimes) plan for how we can best use our time.

All of that happens BEFORE WE EVER MEET!  I don’t think I have to remind you that your big box chain isn’t doing that kind of legwork.

Then, we have the actual session.  You pay me your session fee up front, sign your portrait release that allows me to give you sneak peeks on Facebook, use your beautiful family on my blog, etc.  We begin shooting and I shoot until someone says to stop. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s me, sometimes the children are WORN OUT and we make the decision together.  There is NO time limit on a regular session, although they typically last an hour to two hours or more. If your child wants to run, we will run.  If he/she is shy, I will put down my camera and revert to Teacher Mode and we will PLAY until he/she has warmed up and then I’ll try again.  We will take our time and you will know I am ONLY thinking of you and your family during this time.  There will NOT be a line behind you.

Your big box store is going to give you 15-30 minutes, after you’ve waited in line for it to be your turn. 

I will thank you for the privilege of doing a session with you.  I will go home, immediately back up your photos and choose several to edit for you and share on Facebook or via email– THAT NIGHT or within a day or so.  Over the next week or two I will continue to edit the photos, which takes time from my family and friends.  I do it because you entrusted me to capture your family…and if you’re considering blowing a print up to large-size, then you absolutely deserve to look your very best!  Because I got the focus, aperture, exposure, and shutter speed correct in-camera while we were shooting, I’m not wasting time fixing “mistakes” (as some people think photographers are doing when we edit).  What I am doing is brightening your appearance so your eyes, teeth, and skin look great.  I’m ensuring that you don’t waste any of YOUR time viewing photos that you wouldn’t consider purchasing (so you won’t see any blinking eyes, awkward poses, strange facial expressions).

*Most* of your big box stores do ZERO editing/retouching. (I’m saying MOST because I am sure that somewhere, this is happening…but I personally do not know of a big box chain who does any adjustments to their images.  What you see is what you get).

Then I’m going to upload them to your private gallery on my site, I’ll send you an email which thanks you for choosing CBP and explains how to access and view your photos.  The print pricing is available on my site so you can see what your options are.  I’ll give you 2 weeks to view the photos at your convenience and then (this is new for 2012, in case you’re wondering!) we will meet IN PERSON so you can see my products, view the images with me, and place your order.  This meeting costs you nothing as there was a print credit included in the fee you paid at the session.  It’s simply to allow you the chance to discuss ideas and goals with me and have me at your disposal to help you make the most of your options.

I think you know what I’m going to say next…. your big box store isn’t going to have this personal touch.  They MAY have the products there for you to view, but after the session, when your kids are worn out and just want to go home, and you are tired and stressed…is that REALLY when you want to make these decisions?

Then I’ll come home and place your order, utilizing my top-notch professional-grade vendors. I will ensure that your order, when it arrives, is in perfect condition.  Understand that I HAVE sent back items that did not meet the expectations I have for my clients.  I personally double-check each item and examine every single print and product to be sure it’s something I would want for ME and would be satisfied with if this were my session.  Then, I wrap it all up in custom packaging so that when it arrives for you, you get a little flutter in your tummy because it is so beautiful. It’s like a gift just for you! I’ll AGAIN meet to give it to you– bringing it to your house, your place of work, your church…where ever you request.  I will include extra business cards because I trust that you’ll be so satisfied that you’ll consider passing them on to friends. After you’ve had a chance to view your products, I will send you a follow-up feedback form which allows you to anonymously “grade” your experience and lets ME know how I can improve.

Your big box store isn’t going to package your order beautifully.  They’re not going to bring it to you. They’re going to (maybe) request that you fill out some survey that is likely going to generate Spam into your email.

I’m not hating on big box stores. I’m really, really not……in fact, I personally have some big box store prints IN MY HOUSE at this very moment.  (See??! Told you I wasn’t hating!) I am not doing this to become someone famous or to make bajillions of dollars (trust me…once you factor in the time away from my family or the hours I am “indisposed”, it’s really not that profitable).

My desire is to provide something DIFFERENT.

Something BETTER.


Because YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT.

Your family is WORTH IT.

Your children are WORTH IT.

Yes…I am more expensive than a big box store.  Yes…it takes longer.  But what I do is not cookie-cutter photography.  It’s an experience.  It’s completely, totally, 100% personalized custom photography.  There is nothing automatic about it.  I take NO PART of it for granted.

Which brings us back to the pricing– Why does it cost “more” for you to use me than to use a big box chain? Here is an excerpt from a great article on Professional Child Photographer (.com):

APPLES to ORANGES to BANANAS: Often times clients will mention to their photographer that X studio in the mall/department store only charges $19.99 for an 8×10 “sheet” or they may mention other things related to discount photography chains.  The fact is those discount chains make their money on volume, not on customized 1:1 service.  In February 2007 a company who has leased photography retail space in a rather well known discount retailer closed down 500 of their portrait studios across the nation.  The reason it happened is simple, you cannot make money on 99¢ “professional” prints if you do not sell enough of them.  Interestingly enough – those same studios that offer the loss leader packages often charge much much more for their a la carte pricing vs. many custom photographers (as high as $40-50 for an 8×10). 

A little history – the whole reason the big department stores began offering portrait services in the first place was to get you, the savvy consumer, in through their door so that you could spend more money with them in other departments.  Your “PORTRAITS” are considered the “loss leader”.  Your portraits that are meant to symbolize a once-in-a-lifetime stage in your child’s life are part of what a store considers a way to get you in there door to spend more money on goods that you might not really want or need but because you’re there “anyway” you buy.

Also keep in mind that when you go to a chain studio, as a consumer, you don’t have the benefit of 1:1 attention for 2 hours at your home where your child is allowed to explore, play and be comfortable in their home environment, nor do you get the experience that many custom photographers are known for as well as the lovely captures of natural expressions.  You simply get a bare bones, “SAY CHEESE” experience. 

(Read the whole article by clicking that link.

If I had many other departments in which you could spend money while I edited your photos, etc., then I would be making money every second you were in my store. (Think about it– have you ever left Walmart with ONLY what you went in to buy? I NEVER, EVER have and probably never will!)  By choosing a big box chain you are not choosing custom photography.  Truly custom photography costs lots of time (and money for supplies, taxes, membership, education, blah blah blah)…and that, is why it costs more.

I personally like to think that the benefits outweigh the costs and that by choosing a custom photographer, you will receive back more (in both sentimental and actual value) than what you could put a price on.  My goal is that if you choose Captured Bliss Photography, you will never view photography the same way again and will value custom work as ART…not monetary potential.


What do you think?  Feel free to comment below.  I’m always eager to hear feedback.

Have a great day!



1 Response to "Custom Photography…Why So Much?"

Yes! I would never have my photos taken any other way. Custom photography works well for me and for the photographer – lots of fun, tons of possibilities, and together you can come up with fantastic photos that have so much personality and character, so fun to share with family and friends! Great job, and I nodded my head at every little thing you wrote. 🙂

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