NEW JERSEY -- In a world where everyone with a cell phone is a photographer and on-location and studio family photographers abound, how do we to choose a photographer?

Before you can answer this question, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I looking for a fast, budget-friendly digital photo for my family holiday card, or am I anxious to capture some quick but quality images of my child at this stage of her life for a photo book or to post on social media?
  2. Am I comfortable keeping digital images on a CD, hard drive or USB in my desk drawer and not concerned about the longevity of those images?
  3. When it comes to printed images, is price more important to me than quality, accurate color rendition and the longevity of the print?
  4. Am I comfortable working with a hobbyist photographer taking clients, but who may not be registered as a New Jersey business (i.e. not collecting/paying taxes) or having my child's photo taken by someone who knows nothing about him?
  5. Do I want a photographer to capture my family or my children in a natural setting, interacting with each other in meaningful ways?
  6. Is it important to work with a photographer who will take the time to listen to my goals, learn about my family’s personality and the personalities and interests of my children, guide me in planning an enjoyable and stress-free photo session, and help me choose and coordinate clothing and accessories?
  7. Is it important to come away from my photo session with tangible, archival professionally printed products (prints or albums) that will last long enough to pass down to my children and future generations?
  8. Is it important to work with a New Jersey-licensed business owner who is a member of a professional organization like Professional Photographers of America (PPA) or National Association of Professional Child Photographers (NAPCP)?
  9. Am I interested in working with a photographer who is experienced in designing canvas wall art galleries of her clients’ images on their own walls and could show me what images from my session would look like on the walls of my home? 
  10. Is it important for my photographer to provide recommendations on where to print digital images for the best quality and how to safeguard my digital images from becoming corrupt, lost, or obsolete. (Anyone remember floppy disks?)
  11. Am I willing to pay more for exceptional customer service, quality images, and the value that custom photography offers?

If you answered Yes to any of questions 1-4, then custom photography may not be for you right now. Don’t worry, there are many options to suit these needs, from large chain stores with photo studios to local hobbyist and budget-friendly photographers offering on-location sessions. If you answered Yes to questions 5-11, then custom photography offers the solution to your needs.

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So What Exactly Is Custom Photography?

Custom photography is about not only the images that your photographer captures, but about the entire experience as a whole, from your first interaction with her to book your session, to the final delivery of your products.

Custom photography is about getting the devoted attention of your photographer throughout the entire process, not feeling stressed and overwhelmed by a too crowded portrait studio that feels more like a fast-food drive-thru. Ultimately, custom photography involves the choices your photographer makes, based on her experience and skills, her vision, her understanding of light and most important, your goals for the session.

When you book a custom photo session, your photographer will take the time to talk with you to plan your session, help you choose colors to reflect and complement your style and home décor, and choose the best location for your session based on lighting, scenery and what is meaningful to you.

A custom photographer will spend considerable time culling quality images that meet the her artistic and professional standards and then fully edit images before presenting the gallery to her client. Custom photographers provide exceptional service and typically offer a range of boutique products through professional labs that are only available to licensed photography businesses.

To find the right Custom Photographer, ask friends and family for their recommendations or check for photographers in your area that are members of professional organizations like PPA and NAPCP. Be sure to look at the website and blogs of potential photographers to determine if their particular style resonates with you. Does the photographer have a FAQ, a Details or Information page on their website? This is a great place to learn more about a photographer. Once you’ve narrowed down your selection to two or three photographers, send a note to inquire about setting up a phone consult. This can be a great way to ask questions and see whether you feel a connection with the photographer before booking a session.

To learn more about the value of custom photography, click on the following link for an article by Marianne Drenthe of Marmalade Photography. It can be found at the Professional Child Photography site at