I admit it. I used to be one of those people that went to a national chain to have my family's portraits taken. In this particular case (the photo on the left), it was Portrait Innovations, and my eldest son- Christopher- was two. This was two years before I picked up my camera, learned how to use it, and started creating portraits myself. The portrait on the right, I took myself earlier this evening. Oh, and Christopher is now six.
There are quite a number of differences: the lighting, the editing, the setting, the props, the age of my son, and so on. Some of these differences are self-explanatory- the setting and props (it's a different time of year), and my son's age (as much as parents don't like it, our kids do grow up). Some of these differences aren't, and that's what I hope to explain here: the difference in quality you'll receive when you work with an individual pro, versus a national chain studio.
When we go to a national chain, we all see the huge umbrellas and the fancy lights that they use to take portraits with. They're all pretty impressive, but the difference is that the chain studios use a 'spray-n-pray' technique so that they don't actually have to teach their photographers how to use the equipment. I mostly work with two small flashes and whatever ambient light I have. The effect is that I end up with natural shadows and depth to my photos. In other words, they look real, instead of flat. You can see the different layers I'm creating- my son sitting in the chair, with the presents just behind the chair, all of which are obviously in front of a backdrop. Let me tell you, it took a LOT of time, practice, learning, and more practice to be able to do this. The fancy lights at the chain studio are impressive, but the end result? Not so much...
Chain studios also do not do a whole lot of editing to their photos- if any. Portrait Innovations certainly doesn't as far as I can tell. What you see is what you get. But, that doesn't always make for the best photos. As an individual, I have the ability to edit every photo my client sees in their gallery. I can remove acne (what teen really wants to remember that?!), I can clean up the baby drool (it does happen), I can make sure the spot on your blouse goes away, and so much more. Chain studios don't have the time to do these sorts of edits.
And, setting. When you go to a chain, they have a set number of backdrops and props. Sure, you can use whatever you want in their inventory, but it's pretty limited. When working with an individual photographer- especially me- you get to help choose your location for your portraits. You want to do them in your home? No problem. You want an outdoor setting? I've got a couple of suggestions. You want an urban feel? We can make that happen. You want a 'local' feel? I've got that covered. Basically, you choose where we create your portraits. You also get to bring your own props.
Another thing that really bothered me with the chain studios was the fact that you were expected to spend a certain amount of money with them before you could get the digital files, and who doesn't want those these days? In my current packages, I offer print credit so that you can get prints if that's what you want, but you can also purchase as few or as many digital files as you want without having to buy anything else. You get to shop your way, spending as much or as little as you'd like.
I archive my clients' photos. Chain studios do not do this. Should your home burn down (I sincerely hope it doesn't!), your computer crash, you loose your photos in a move, or any other disaster strikes, I will have your photos. All you have to do is get in touch and ask for them.
And, on one final note, when you work with me, you're supporting a small, local business. I don't have a second home, or a yacht, or even a kid in private school. You're helping me support my family, and all that comes with that responsibility. And, for that I'm eternally grateful.