How, might you ask, does one make a photo session thrifty? Isn't it inherently pricey, given that you are getting professional photos taken?
Yes and no.
If you've made the decision to have professional photographs taken, you already know that you are looking for quality images that you can't achieve on your own or with the help of a relative who "likes playing around with cameras". As with anything, you make choices as to what you value. Some people invest in a PlayStation, some in a vintage car, some invest in a vacation, others in art like a painting or a beautiful heirloom photograph.
Being thrifty does not mean that you are scrimpy.
Don't scrimp out on the quality of your photographer. Your photographer is the person who is going to capture those images you will hold onto and look at for a life-time. Choose someone who will create images that are worthy of being a family heirloom. Check out their website and decide whether their artistic eye jives with your aesthetic. By all means, look around for a photographer who fits your budget, but balance skill with price when making your final decision. Your time is valuable too, you don't want to go through the trouble of buying clothes, doing make-up, corralling the family only to find your discount photographer can't take a decent shot. Choose a photographer who has genuine technical ability and will truly be doing you a service by doing the skilled work of editing and printing high quality archival photographs.
Okay, you've chosen the photographer who best suits your needs, now here's where you can get truly thrifty.
A great rule of thumb should be: Don't spend more on clothes than you're spending on a photographer.
You may laugh here, but I've known folks to go out and blow hundreds of dollars on matching outfits at their favorite clothing store, then spending hundreds on make-up too, far exceeding what they paid their photographer.
Remember, the camera does not recognize name-brands, nor even new clothing, it just likes (clean, and pressed) clothing in harmonious colors. So, with that in mind, and provided you've left enough time ahead of the shoot, now's the time to start thrifting it up.
First, check your closet. The best deal is not having to spend any money at all, right? What do you have there that is a classic staple? Jeans? A blazer? A great cozy sweater? Maybe you have a great hat or unique accent piece you want to work everything else around.
Choose that as your launching point. I personally love Jeans because they are so versatile, they can be casual or high fashion depending on what it's pared with.
Second, decide on your palette. If you are doing a personal portrait shoot, you get to wear whatever you please, so your job is simple, choose the colors you love. If it's a couple or family shots, you need to start thinking about what your colors are going to be based perhaps on the location you will be shooting at ( think surrounding colors ) or season ( Christmas, Easter, Spring, Halloween etc.). You're going to be looking for clothing in your color palette, but each outfit does not need to match in any other way! Such freedom!
Now hit the thrift stores. These days thrift stores are smart and have started to sort their clothes by colors. This makes it SUPER easy for you. If you've decided on your palette, you can just head straight for that rack. Consignment stores, thrift stores, yard sales are your friend.
Note: be aware of the fact that lots of thrift stores carry a lot of common, low cost brands. Skip those, since brands like Old Navy, Merona, Forever21 etc. have their own sales often that can cost the same or even less than what thrift stores are selling it for (one of my pet peeves with thrift stores). Scan for the more desirable brands in order to really score on quality. The caveat to this rule is, if you LOVE it, just get it.
Super Thrifter Note: If you want to be uber thrifty, only scan for the clothes that have the sale tag of the day- often thrift stores will have a 50% off a specific color tag. Sundays are often the big score days when those 50% tags magically turn into $1 dollar deals! Check with your local thrift and consignment stores to see when these special deals happen.
There are even thrift stores on-line now. I haven't personally tried it, but I'd say give it a go if you're limited on time or don't like combing through racks.
If you don't like the thrift store route- too dusty or icky for you, check out the sales racks at low to mid level clothing stores. Places like Old Navy have seasonal sales that are ridiculously good (so cheap I can't fathom how it's even possible to sell it that low as it is a clear loss in fabric and labor alone). Scan for your colors, and if you don't see them, move on! It's not a deal if you end up buying a whole new wardrobe unrelated to the session!
Another method would be to post an ISO (in search of) on the multitude of community buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook. You'd be amazed by what you can find when you call on your community's help. Sometimes you really score and get something for free because someone is just happy to find a home for the clothes their kids or they themselves no longer need.
Hair and Make-up.
This one is fairly simple but very individual. If getting your hair and make-up professionally done makes you feel your best and like you can rock a shoot, by all means do it, but it can be pricey.
To be thrifty you could look at just having your make-up done or vice verse. Generally it is more affordable to have your hair styled than getting make-up done. Think $25-$30 versus make-up which is around $75 to $95.
If you have someone in your family or friend group who loves doing make-up ask them if they can do it for you.
Better yet, if you are a seasoned pro at doing your own make-up, do that.
Alternatively, if you, like me, don't know a thing about doing your own make-up, and you have no one willing to do it for you, check out listings for local beauty schools and see if they can do your hair and make-up at a discount price. You may find some keen beauty school kid who's willing to practice on you between their study schedule. They might not be seasoned pros, but most likely are pretty darn good at it since that is the field they've chosen to pursue.
Prints and Digital Files.
So, you manage to get your outfits at bargain basement prices, and your make-up for either nothing or a reduced price, what about the actual photography?
Like I mentioned, you don't want to cheap out on your photographer. After all, they are the ones making you look good and capturing memories.
However, do check out their pricing sheet for prints. Often times, if you go for the packages, the overall cost per item is cheaper vs trying to buy prints etc. a la carte. If you are wanting files plus print work such as an album that you don't want to have to try and put together yourself, this is the way to go.
If you like to order your own print work, and the photographer is willing to sell their digital files individually, you can also go the route of being an excellent editor and just choosing the best and your most favorite couple of images to purchase. It's hard to choose only a few images, but you have to be brutal about cutting all but your most favorite. After all, what can you do with 50 images of the same shoot? Be discerning and chose the ones you're going want to see on a card or in a frame on your mantle.
Similarly, if you want an expert to produce the high quality archival print work, ie your photographer, choose the one investment piece that you are going to want to look at for years to come. Will a beautiful canvas mounted over your sofa bring a smile to your face everyday? Is that worth it to you? Or an album you can page through on rainy or contemplative, sentimental days? One precious object is worth more (and hits the wallet less) than an gazillion meaningless objects you have no place for in your home.
I hope that helped a bit. Please, if you have more ideas about how to make a photo session more thrifty, ad them in the comments below.
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