There's almost always a reason for photographs — an engagement , wedding, graduation, pregnancy, you name it.
For many of these occasions, you'll want a professional on hand who can do more than add a fancy filter to an ordinary snapshot.
But hiring a photographer to capture life's important milestones can be pretty pricey. Here's how to cut down on the cost of a professional without sacrificing quality.
SNAP UP SOCIAL MEDIA SAVINGS
"My number one tip would be to ask social media," says John Myers, owner of John Myers Photography & Videography in Tennessee.
Go to Facebook or Instagram to ask for recommendations from friends and followers. "It's a great way for you to get a lot of options, and then from there you can sift through what's your ideal budget, style (and) availability," he says.
Then, find and follow the pages of photographers you like, much as you would follow a retailer or restaurant. You'll likely stumble across deals and exclusive offers. Myers, for example, said he recently ran a free engagement photo session contest on Instagram.
ZERO IN ON A 'MINI-SESSION'
Another money-saving strategy is to look for a photographer who offers "mini-sessions," which are shorter or smaller versions of full shoots. This shorter session may last 20 to 30 minutes and result in 20 to 30 photos, whereas a normal portrait session may take 60 to 90 minutes and result in 60 to 70 images, Myers says.
"There are photographers who offer mini-sessions, and those usually occur in the busier time of the year," Myers says. "At least in the Southwest and some other places, spring and fall are kind of the popular times to do these because the weather is perfect."
For example, Myers estimates a photographer who offers a mini-session for an engagement may charge around $200 or $250, compared with $600 for a regular session. The tradeoff? You'll have a shorter shooting time and get fewer images. But you might pay about a third of the usual price.
GET A WIDER ANGLE
Keep your options open beyond the first few photographers you find.
"The photographers who can afford to advertise are usually the ones who are charging more money," says Maddie Eisenhart, a retired wedding photographer and chief revenue officer at the website A Practical Wedding.
"The people that you see a lot are generally going to be a little bit more expensive," she says. "There are a lot of wedding photographers who are really talented who maybe aren't the most skilled at blogging or getting their web presence out there."
Eisenhart recommends relying on word of mouth to find these photographers. Or look at photos from weddings and other events on wedding websites or social media. When you find a photography style you like, get the name of the photographer.
Widening your search also means being open to choosing less popular days and times. Myers says you can likely find discounts if you pick "friendly dates" when photographers have better availability.
For example, since Saturdays are the busiest days for weddings, weekday ceremonies are usually more appealing for photographers.
"If you're getting married on a Thursday," Myers says, "you will see us fall over ourselves to try to shoot your wedding."
SEE THE PRICE IN BLACK AND WHITE
Don't forget the fine print. Before you agree to a photographer or pay anything, make sure you know the final price and exactly what you're going to get. Eisenhart says to always have a contract — and to read it in its entirety.
She also advises looking through the photographer's gallery. For a wedding, look at a complete album, as opposed to a handful of highlights. You don't want to waste your money on a photographer who only manages to take a few good pictures for the whole event.
Ask questions such as: How many hours will the shoot take? Can you limit the number of hours the photographer is on site to cut down on the price? What will be done to the pictures after the shoot?
"Be sure to inquire about what treatments the photographer will add to the images, such as sepia tones, multiple exposures and split frames," Andie Fowler, editor for The Bash, a party planning site, said in an email. "All of these extras can add up quickly."
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @courtneynerd.
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