Value Over Cost: Senior Pictures Are All About the Memories
Price is often one of the first things many of us focus on when thinking about professional photography sessions, and that’s natural. Heck, right now everything seems to be getting more expensive, so it’s only smart to know beforehand what you’re investing in.
The keyword I used above is investing. I’m pretty much a pro at justifying purchases, but I can list a whole lot of things I spend money on that don’t qualify as investments. Somehow, my daily Starbucks fix, random Target runs, and fall flea market binges don’t seem like justifiable life investments! (Don’t tell my husband though. I finally convinced him that the vintage refurbed light fixture I purchased a couple weeks ago was a necessary investment.)
A Parent’s Perspective
I’m today’s guest blogger, writer by day, and mom 24/7 to 5 kids, Janelle Stahl. Also known as Marissa’s Mom. I’ll take you behind the scenes and tell you exactly why I’m so glad we didn’t use a cheap photographer, but chose instead to have our daughter’s senior portraits with Magical Memories by Michelle. This is my sweet girl, Marissa, Class of 2020 from Red Mountain High School.
The Real Investment
Think of all the years you’ve spent supporting your kiddo as they’ve grown up…all the miles you’ve driven to practices, all the games you’ve cheered at, all the events you’ve stretched from the back row to try to catch a glimpse of their growing stardom. Your soon-to-be-grad has put in TONS of time and effort to become the amazing young human they are now, and as parents we get one shot to capture every one of their talents, hard work, and achievements together in a single professional photo package.
When I thought about it that way and put it into perspective, I knew the investment in professional photos was worth it before I could even blink!
Planning, Prepping & Paying: The Lowdown
I’ll tell you all about our experience, and you can decide for yourself.
Was our photographer more expensive than other photographers? Yup. But did I want another round of cookie-cutter $9.95 studio photos with my kid’s hands clasped together under her chin as she made creepy eye contact with the camera? No way.
You’ll find photographers who are more expensive and some who are less expensive, but nothing—and I mean NOTHING—is better than word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals from people who have had excellent experiences with the professional you’re about to hire. That’s one of the main reasons we went with Magical Memories by Michelle.
From day one, Michelle was focused on building a relationship with our family, especially our daughter. Her goal was to make sure she felt comfortable and got the senior pictures of her dreams. And trust me, now that our little bird has left the nest and flown out of state to college, the lovely photos we have hanging around our house and the keepsake box full of heirloom images are comforts to us as we wait for her next visit home!
But Was It Worth It?
I’ll admit it…we spent more than we originally thought we would. Before the photo shoot, we had this thought that it would be easy-peasy to choose our favorite few photos, throw them into a collection, and call it a day. Let me just warn you now that the portrait selection process will be THE single most difficult task you’ll face throughout the entire senior portrait process.
Why? Because every image you’ll be shown will be amazing, and you’ll have the task of narrowing down your favorites from a field of a gazillion fabulous choices. The struggle is real!
We spent EXACTLY what we were quoted for the photo shoot, and Michelle’s work was impeccable. The “problem” came in when Marissa’s proud parents decided to purchase everything but the kitchen sink when it came to keepsake images! Are we glad we did it? Absolutely!
The One Thing All Moms Do
I’m one of those moms. For my first kiddo, I have a Sears Portrait package dating back all the way to 1994, in 6-month increments—all stored neatly in a plastic tote to protect them from humidity. The second kiddo has her fair share of portraits, too, all stored in the same tote. It gets a little skimpier for the kids after that. The days start to fly by, things get busy, and before you know it those staged studio sessions grow fewer and further between. I also faithfully purchased the school portrait packages, twice per year, per kid. (By now, I’m pretty sure I could have purchased a yacht. Ok, well at least a really nice boat.) Care to guess where those pics are stored? Yup, in the plastic tote.
Why the Tote?
Because those pre-planned packages come with approximately 50 of the same image of your child making the same face, with their head tilted at the same awkward angle. If you’re lucky, the school pics happened BEFORE recess. Otherwise, you’re also the proud owner of a lot of pictures of sweaty, dirt-streaked children with hair that you didn’t even know could defy gravity like that. These pictures are in the tote because there are only so many people you can gift them to on Christmas, Hanukkah, Mother’s Day, and Groundhog Day. (Yes, when you have that many of the same image, you become a very creative gifter.)
And Then Life Happens
The years have a funny way of zipping past us in a blink, and before we know it, that little boy we stuffed into a snap-bottom sailor suit for baby pictures has graduated trade school. The red-head who dressed up as Ariel has gotten married. And the next one is getting ready to graduate. You reminisce and realize that eventually all your studio photographs were replaced by in-the-moment snapshots, often blurry, sometimes unrecognizable, but full of memories. This was me as Graduation 2020 approached and I proudly watched another kiddo prepare to graduate. This would be the first one to leave home to go to college though. She’d be going out of state, flying the coop. Maybe it was an early case of homesickness in reverse. Or a minor mid-life crisis. Or potentially even a feeling of mom-guilt at having realized there was a substantial lack of photographs to document the most recent years. Whatever it was, when the topic of senior pictures came up, I was ALL IN!
Let’s Call the Portrait Studio
Thank goodness for friends, luck, and being in the right place at the right time. You see, I had the good fortune of mentioning this topic in the presence of Michelle—yup, the very Magical Memories one. She told me what she does, how she loves to work with seniors for their portraits, and how she really differentiates every photo session and focuses on building self-esteem and confidence. She laughed at the perplexed look on my face. “Yeah, I missed all that at Sears and Walmart,” I told her. I was intrigued, and I’m not gonna lie. I checked out her biz as soon as I got home. (As well as her google ratings. Trust me; they’re up there!)
The Big Difference
I was convinced Michelle was an awesome photographer, but I knew she wasn’t cheap. I wanted to know the true difference between what we would get if we went with her vs. doing pics ourselves or even going the traditional studio route. Boy, was I schooled!
Here’s what I learned:
You won’t get a “45 pics for $19.95” coupon at Magical Memories, BUT at the Bulk Photo Producers (we are NOT down with BPP ever again), you won’t get the experience you get at Magical Memories. I couldn’t even believe everything our daughter’s senior portrait experience included…sure didn’t get all this at a discount BPP:
- Loads of prep-time with Michelle
- Amazing Style Guides & help with fashion & makeup
- Guidance & referrals for hair & makeup pros
- Access to a stocked-to-the-brim Style Closet
- A 3+ hour photo shoot at multiple locations (moms, wear comfy shoes!)
- Professional retouching…but only what we wanted
- Out-of-this-world keepsakes
I also learned that my already-amazingly beautiful and talented daughter had another side to her—one that I had never seen before. I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see it if she hadn’t been working with Michelle. Here’s what happened.
I don’t know how to explain it. Michelle has a way with these kids. I’ve now seen her work with Marissa, my daughter, as well as a few other grads, and she puts them at such ease in front of the camera. She develops a rapport with them that, within 15 minutes, makes the camera, the worried mom, the make-up bag, the cell phone, and everything else magically disappear. (See what I did there? Magical?)
When we first stepped into the ditch (it’s beautiful, don’t worry), Marissa was stiff. And she might have been ‘tromping like an elephant,’ although Michelle would only say something like that out of love. BUT…
And it’s a big BUT! Within 10 minutes, those two were laughing like sorority girls at a carwash fundraiser. The props, the stress, the mom, the heat? All of it forgotten!
A complete transformation occurred before my eyes, and I was able to stand back and watch Michelle capture images of my daughter. The beautiful daughter that I see every day. The girl that I’ve seen for 18 years as she’s grown and flourished and learned.
At her senior picture photo shoot, Marissa was looking forward to a limitless future. Graduation, college, competitive diving, working toward a career, so many things! And at that same photo shoot, I was filled with dreams for my daughter’s future; but at the same time I was able to look back and see—just for a minute—that little girl with the freckles and curls who carried a very ladylike purse full of pacifiers with her when she was four years old. (Gotta be prepared!)
I don’t know how Michelle did it, but at Marissa’s senior picture photo shoot, she managed to take Marissa through an entire journey of the things that have contributed to the wonderful person she is today. We had fun. We laughed. We were exhausted. I saw my girl transform in into the carefree, lighthearted spirit she’s always been right in front of the camera. And it happened in such a natural way! Michelle captured the glint in her eye. She captured the way she tilts her head when she’s being goofy. She captured how she loves her dog, Savannah, more than anything else in the world.
I can’t tell you how long Marissa’s photo shoot lasted, but I can tell you it was longer than three hours. And I can tell you that never once did Michelle get tired! We were the ones to call it…she wore us out with her energy, ideas, and enthusiasm for her art. And in the end? Did we end up with a packet of cloned prints of the same image? You can bet we did NOT! We invested in heirloom-quality keepsakes that will last forever! We have a beautiful image box, a wall collage, and plenty of different prints to share with the entire family. We even have a flash drive full of her digital images and slideshow!
To my previous two kiddos: Mom is very, very sorry. I think I have some very fine snapshots of your graduation from about twenty rows back (although they feature the back of some stranger’s head). I promise to get fabulous graduation photos for my grandkids! To the next two: Your graduation photos will also be with Magical Memories by Michelle, so they will be equally as fantabulous as Marissa’s!
Was It Worth It?
Yes, yes, and YES! Michelle’s way of capturing every nuance of Marissa’s personality was truly magical, and I’m so grateful that we will always have the professional images of our girl as she was getting ready to make her way out into the the great-big world! Thank you, Michelle!