There’s this black and white picture of my Abuelita sitting behind her sewing machine that I pass every day from my room to my office. I took it one random afternoon when I came by to see her. I brought my favorite film camera and a single roll of black and white film. I moved around her little apartment snapping away as she chided me for taking pictures while she was in her housecoat. It was the last time she sat down to sew. It’s the best picture I have ever taken and one that hangs in my mom and sister’s homes as well. Though I spent money on that small roll of film and on developing the 12 frames it produced, I can’t put a price on what that picture means to me or my family.
The fact remains that people die. And they get old and move away and families only come together a few times a year. Pictures, in the end, are all we have left along with a few scattered memories. Those, memories, however, are traitors. They betray us and before long even the strongest of memories fade. I still cling to those moments I had with her, still try to remember the sound of her laughter or the way her hand felt in mine. With every day that passes, those memories fade a little more. But when I see a picture of her smiling, I can almost hear the echo of her laugh in the room.
The more experience I gain as a photographer, the more I realize that I don’t just take pictures, I freeze time. Whenever I show up on a wedding day or meet a family for a portrait session, I know that I’m charged with the weighty task of documenting their lives. It’s hard to put a price on that. I often say that I could do this for free, I love it so much, but I need to make a living. I left my full-time job at a high school so that I could become a better photographer and make a life filled with capturing fleeting moments. This is my job and my life.
One of the first questions that I get asked by potential clients is about price. Now, I was a bride once and didn’t have a plentiful budget to work with. We knew, however, the type of wedding we were going to have. We knew that family and friends from all over the country and from different points of our lives were going to join us on our special day. We made sure that those pictures would tell our story long after our memories failed us. Those pictures weren’t cheap. I don’t remember much about the day I married my husband; it’s all a scattered and blurry highlight reel of feelings and laughter and faces. But then I catch a glimpse of our favorite portrait and I’m right back on that balcony three floors above a raging ocean, laughing with my love as the storm whirled behind us. I go back there every time. That is the power of photography and one that is so hard to explain.
The truth is that photography is expensive. It should be noted, though, that the prices that we as photographers place on our work is not arbitrary. We don’t just pull prices out of a hat. We run businesses that need to be sustained. We juggle many aspects of business that go beyond the actual time that we’re behind a camera. THIS is an excellent example of what we do. It’s easy to simply look at prices and find someone who is cheaper. But no one tells you what the ultimate bottom line is. A photograph isn’t bad because of shoddy composition or outdated processing; it’s bad because it is two seconds too late; it’s bad because it’s a moment missed. The difference between a cheaper photographer and a good one is the difference between priceless memories and a stack of pictures that don’t do justice to the day you had or who your family was when you took those pictures.
I can’t teach value. Though I can explain why my collections and sessions cost a certain amount, I can’t quantify, strictly with numbers, why it costs more to hire me over someone else. Yet, I can show you a picture of a groom gasping in joy when he first sees his bride, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. I ask you to look at that and tell me what the value is to that couple for that picture. Moments like those aren’t ones you can recreate or that you can check off a shot list. It look me a while to learn how to find that picture in the milieu of a wedding day. I’ve dedicated my career to becoming the type of photographer who makes those types of pictures the rule instead of the exception.
Photography matters. Our photos are the legacy we leave behind. In the end, the flowers will wilt, the dress will yellow in the back of our closets, people we hold dear will die, but those pictures remain. They will grace walls and be tireless reminders of the sound of someone’s laughter or the feel of someone’s embrace. If you choose the right photographer for you, one who you’ve chosen for reasons beyond cost, you won’t regret your decision. You won’t think back to the price. Instead, you’ll be transported every time.
Here are some of the moments I’ve had the honor of capturing throughout my career:
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Sound off in the comments below.
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