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Make or Buy: Pro Photography

It's Make or Buy Monday, y'all. Time to dive into photography. I should start by confessing that I am an enormous photo junkie. When Sean and I got married, the photographer was the most important thing on my list.

When we were expecting our daughter...yep, belly shots.

Photo courtesy of Captivating Imagery

And when I went into labor, who was in the room? A couple of midwives, my husband...and a photographer.

Photo courtesy of Captivating Imagery.

And it wasn't two weeks later when Sean and I drove that poor, tiny baby 6 hours to Maryland and got a whole new batch of newborn shots done.

Photo courtesy of Lori Elizabeth Photography

Yep, you can say I'm pretty much crazy about photos.

Our family owns a point and shoot, a digital video camera, and recently I saved up my allowance for months and purchased a Nikon D90 so I could take quality photos every day of the year, hopefully saving a lot of money, when you consider that I'd prefer to hire a professional photographer for every single one of life's events.

So when I think about whether photography is a "make or buy", there are a handful of things that I would think about. In no particular order, here are the things I would consider:

  • Can you take a nice photo? If  you've got a good eye, that's a huge start. If you can take a good photo (composition, focus, etc), editing software can make it look darn-near perfect. If all of your pictures look like a "Where's Waldo?" drawing, or like they were shot during an earthquake, maybe photography isn't your thing.
  • Do you own a decent digital camera? Don't get me wrong, I have some absolutely gorgeous photos with my Nikon point and shoot, and with some editing, they are cherished keepsakes. But a point and shoot can only move so fast, so I much prefer my rock and roll D90--not quite a pro camera, but a reasonable facsimile for my meager purposes. And when your camera moves fast, you're more likely to capture the moment you intend to. You know what I mean, right? How many times have you taken a picture, just to find that the moment you wanted to grab happened about 3 seconds before the shutter on your camera closed.
  • Do you have a home computer and access to decent editing software? Without a home computer (or a dark room and a lot of spare time), your chances of pulling off any solid pro-like photos are slim to none, because you're going to want to run them through some editing software. I use Photoshop, but there's also Lightroom and a host of other products you can use. And trust me, while a shot might look fantastic coming right out of your camera, it can look darn-right magical with a few clicks of the mouse. I'm no pro by any stretch of the imagination, but here are a couple examples of some of my shots, before and after:

sean, just laying in bed talking on the phone

duck rage baby, playing on her changing table

  • Do you know how to use editing software? Not really so much a make it or break it, unless you're completely computer illiterate, in which case, you might just want to sign up for a lynda.com tutorial and figure it out. But make no mistake, a few clicks of the mouse can turn a good photo, into one that you keep going back to stare at. Need a reminder?

i think this photo of ibaby will always leave be breathless, and all she's doing is waiting for a diaper change.

  • Do you have some expendable income to use on quality photos? Or maybe a skill you could use to barter? Let's face it, professional photography can be pricey, but let's stop to consider all that you're getting. On the surface, it seems like you're getting an hour or two of the photographer's time, and maybe a CD or an album. But what you don't see are the hours of time it takes to go through all the photos taken, editing just the right ones, choosing a way to present them. Or what about the knowledge of lighting and composition, shutter speed and aperture? Shelling out a few clams for a session and some great shots is totally worth it. But maybe you just don't have it. Maybe you have a skill you could trade. Design a website, knit Christmas gifts for your photographer's entire family, clean their house a few times. Be creative!
  • Are photos something that you find to be especially valuable? If you don't really care about photos (and I promise I won't judge you), maybe just take a few quick shots at the birthday party and be done with it. But if they are as important to you as they are to me, you want them all the time. And sure, it's fine to take the pictures yourself most of the time, but now and then, it's just nice to be in the shot too.

There are so many great resources out there to get some basic tips just to spruce up your casual photos. I really like The Pioneer Woman's photography site, for example, because you can really watch the evolution of a casual photographer. Do you have any other great sites you like for tips and tricks? What other considerations are there when deciding whether or not to invest in a professional?

imanimama's VERDICT: Here's how I would answer the "Make or Buy" question for myself. I love photos and I love the artistic flair of photographers. If it were up to me, I'd probably have photos taken by 10 different photographers a year or more.

At the same time, I've got a pretty good eye, a nice camera, a lovely iMac and Photoshop. With my design background and great love of photos, I'll probably take lots of them myself and will do my best with my limited knowledge, to make them look professional. I may even break out and try my hand at the traditional photos myself, like for birthdays and holidays.

But let's face it, I'm surrounded by some really awesome professionals with amazing talent. And for the right occasion, I'm willing to shell out (or guilt my mom into shelling out) a few dollars. Besides, if I even want to be in a picture, you can be sure I won't always rely on the D90's timer. Geez, I don't even think I know how to use it. And with that, I'm off to find someone who can photograph my iBaby's first birthday party. Anyone? Anyone???

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