When I was a kid growing up birthday photography comprised of mum (or dad) with a basic (and very old) 35mm film camera snapping a couple of images as the birthday cake, complete with lit candles, being carried to the table where the birthday boy (if it was me) or girl (if it was either of my sisters) would be sat eagerly waiting to blow the candles out and make a wish, having a photo taken doing so. Okay, there may be the odd photo of some older family members or the kids running around having fun, but there wouldn’t be many of these.
Back then birthday photography wasn’t a big deal and the photos of the event were usually incorrectly exposed (either over or under), poorly composed, blurry and out of focus and a bit of a let-down. When the photos were finally developed (which was often several months later) they were looked at and then put in mum’s “memory box” never to see the light of day again. Back then birthday photography wasn’t a big deal.
That was then, this is now and times have dramatically changed. Nowadays birthday photography is a big deal for many parents, and it is a very lucrative way to make money with your camera. Digital photography is cheap and there are more people with cameras (or smartphone/tablets with the ability to take photos) than people who don’t have the means to take a photo. Despite the popularity in digital photography there are many parents out there only too willing to engage a professional photographer, or an enthusiast with a decent camera and capable of capturing some decent photos, and pay them good money to do so.
When it comes to photographing their children’s birthday parties parents seem to want professional quality photos, and loads of them. Nowadays parents don’t just want photos of the cake and the candles, and the birthday boy/girl blowing the candles out, oh no. Nowadays parents want photos of the birthday party preparations, the venue, the food, the table settings and the entertainment. Parents also want photos of each and every child as they arrive, and other photos of them running around doing all the things that kids do at birthday parties. Parents want photos of the gifts (all wrapped up), photos of the birthday boy/girl opening the gifts (capturing the facial expressions), all the gifts (unwrapped)……. The list goes on.
Fortunately, digital photography is cheap and (once you have the camera, lens, memory cards, speed lights etc.) it doesn’t cost anything to take a photo which means you can go around snapping hundreds (and even thousands if you, or more importantly the parent requests) of photos. Digital photography equipment allows you to capture every aspect of the birthday from the preparation to the clean-up, and this is now considered the norm when you provide birthday party photography services. Trust me on this, you will have lots of photos to go through, choose the best ones and then edit in the digital darkroom – which will take up a lot of time.
Quantity is one thing but parents also demand quality too, which is to be expected given they pay good money for birthday photography services. Parents expect photos to be well composed, properly exposed, properly lit, in focus and also artistic. Parents want photos they can frame and hang, and are not happy with sub-standard photos that are looked at and then stored away in a memory box, like when I was growing up. Today’s parents expect plenty of top quality birthday party photographs, and you have to perform time after time.
In my experience of birthday photography if you fail once you will lose out big time. Parents talk to each other, parents share experiences, parents recommend people and services to each other. In addition to this parents are also only too willing share bad experiences/poor service among each other, and if you don’t perform at a birthday party you will blow your chances with several other parents who would have used you for their children’s birthday party photography had you done well.
Fortunately, I haven’t had a birthday party go seriously wrong. Sure, I have had several photos fail (that’s all part and parcel of any photography, and not just birthday photography) but I have always managed to bag a sufficient amount of keepers to please the parents. I do, however, have a couple of photography buddies who have messed up a birthday party and they have done very few since.
One of my photography buddies isn’t really a people photographer and did them as a favor so it doesn’t really bother him too much. Besides, he makes his money from taking other types of photos, and he really doesn’t need the pressure, hassle and headache of taking hyperactive and screaming kids (his words – not mine).
Whilst a couple of bad birthday parties hasn’t affect my buddy above, a bad birthday party has had a detrimental effect on another one of my photography buddies. This bloke relies on portrait photography to make a living and he found that not meeting (or exceeding) the parents expectations at one particular birthday party has resulted in a lot of lost business. The parents (as parents do) bad mouthed him to their friends, and not only has he lost out on other birthday parties he has also seen a decline in his family portrait gigs, his wedding gigs, his senior portrait gigs and also corporate head shot gigs. He lives in a small town and as he got a reputation of not being capable of taking a decent portrait photo people looking for portrait photography services (and this includes ALL portrait photography services) have gone elsewhere and not even asked him for a quote.
If you think birthday photography is an easy ride you need to think again, because it really isn’t and when it comes to their kids, all parents will be highly critical.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.