Well liked photographers are typically well known on a local mitzvah circuit, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions when booking one for your own child’s mitzvah. We’ve put together a list of questions for you to ask photographers you might be considering, or to keep in mind when you go ahead and simply book the photographer highly recommended by a family member or friend.
EXPERIENCE & STYLE
Is the photographer an experienced mitzvah photographer?
Certainly it will be easier for you and more comfortable for all if you choose a photographer who has lots of experience with mitzvahs. But if there’s a photographer whose work you absolutely love, yet they aren’t a traditional mitzvah photographer, just be sure they have sufficient experience photographing children, especially teens and preteens. Ask for samples of prior work, as well as references. And if you go ahead with a contract, be sure to provide very specific information about what kind of photographic coverage you want, which shots are an absolute must (see below), and what synagogue or reception protocols must be adhered to.
TIP: It may be tempting to accept a camera savvy relative or friend’s offer to photograph your child’s mitzvah at a lower cost than would be the case with a professional photographer, but remember that these are memories and images that you will cherish forever. Professional photographers not only are experienced in working with large and diverse groups, but also are prepared to handle all kinds of glitches, like potential equipment failures. And you’ll know just what you’re getting if you’ve adequately vetted even recommended photographers in advance and taken the time to see their work firsthand. Make this decision carefully. The bottom line always matters, but you can’t redo a special day once it’s over.
What is the photographer’s style?
Try to assess a photographer’s way of dealing with people (temperament), as well as their artistic style and technical skills. Most event photographers today use a photojournalistic approach, so that’s unlikely to differ much from photographer to photographer. But be sure anyone you are considering is a good match, personality-wise, for you and your family. It really is best to stick with your own comfort zone on this one. For example, if you or your child are on the quiet side, you’ll want someone who is good with children and teens as well as adults, and experienced in pulling together various group photographs, but who is also more on the gentle, unassuming side than brash and in your face. This is your and your child’s special day, and your photographer should fit seamlessly right in. You want them to be actively capturing the feel and the action without interfering or hogging the spotlight.
PRODUCTS, PRICES, & ACCESSIBILITY
What end products are available (e.g. digital files, individual prints, albums), in what format, and at what prices?
Most photographers offer specific packages. Discuss all of your options, choose the format or formats that you will be most comfortable with, and the end products that will best suit your needs. Keep in mind that you may not have the time after the event to compose albums, digital or print, yourself.
How soon will the images be available after the event and in what format?
Ask how long it typically takes for images to be made available after the event. Professional photographers will usually make basic editing decisions prior to uploading image galleries but are usually pretty quick to make final images available. Clients are typically given access to image galleries via an email link and password. Photos can be viewed individually and selected a la carte or as part of a package. NOTE: Many photographers now provide greater assistance with album design, selecting images and providing digital album mockups. This is enormously helpful once regular schedules and demands return after the big event.
Will there be an expiration date for viewing digital galleries, downloading selected images, or ordering prints/products?
This is IMPORTANT. You will have spent MONTHS planning and preparing for this event, but it doesn’t take long afterwards for things to return to “normal” and all of the other demands of everyday life to take up your time; time that will be difficult to devote to going through hundreds of images after the immediate excitement has passed.
Will the images be shareable via email or social media?
Be sure to ask this question if you want to share images electronically. There’s nothing like a physical album you can hold in your hands or prints you can assemble into a special keepsake, but you can certainly save money by limiting the number of prints you order.
TIP: You may need to ask about different resolution sizes and file formats when discussing media sharing capability.
How will your images be stored over the long term?
In the cloud? On a hard drive? On or off site? What protections will be in place to guard against accidental damage or loss?
Can additional prints or digital files be ordered or accessed at a later date?
If you are approaching an agency, be sure to ask which photographer will be assigned to your event.
After viewing prior work, you may have a preference for one particular photographer over another. Be clear about any such preference and request confirmation of the assigned photographer.
Ask about pre-event synagogue photos.
Most synagogues do not allow live photography during services. Bimah photographs are typically taken during the week leading up to the bar or bat mitzvah. Consult with your synagogue before setting the date and time with your photographer – you’ll need access to the Sanctuary at a time when it will not otherwise be in use and you’ll likely need to have the Rabbi, Cantor, or tutor on hand to help with the Torah. Be sure to let EVERYONE you want to be in these photographs (especially grandparents who are not local and who need to plan their travel accordingly) know of the appointed day and time, then confirm and reconfirm.
How long will you have the photographer for on the day of the event (reception)?
Discuss the timeframe you will need the photographer for on event day (you can set the final start and end times closer to the date). Be sure to allow for family photos at the reception site prior to the start time of the reception.
Will the photographer need a specific shot list?
Again, most synagogues do not allow live photography during services. Photographers with mitzvah experience generally know which images families will want as symbolic of the service and be comfortable working with the mitzvah child, family, and Rabbi/Cantor to ensure that important moments are captured. The photographer should preferably also be familiar with the rituals that typically take place during a mitzvah reception, for example, kiddush and motzi blessings, hora dancing and chair lifting, candlelighting ceremonies and photo montages.
Take some time to prepare a list of photos that are important to you, or review the “shot list” provided by your photographer. Make expectations clear so that you are not disappointed later. At the same time, allow the photographer some freedom to capture non-posed moments – this is where individual photographers’ artistic abilities really shine and these photos sometimes become the most treasured.
TIP: Ask a family member or friend to serve as a point person if needed to assist your photographer in identifying and locating key family members for important photos.
Carefully review the terms of any contract.
Be sure the photographer is properly insured.
Contracts sometimes include this information, but don’t hesitate to ask questions if you don’t see appropriate language or the specifics are unclear. Make sure unlikely but potentially serious situations are covered, for example, if the photographer’s equipment falls on and injures you or a guest.
Is there a deposit required to hold the date? What is the amount of the deposit and when will the balance be due?
Photographers typically require a deposit at the time the contract is signed, with the balance due just prior to the mitzvah date.
Are there any additional charges built into the contract? What contingencies are covered and how? How will you be protected in the event of unanticipated delays or cancellations?
Look for clauses related to such add-ons as travel expenses. Discuss backup arrangements in case of unexpected weather emergencies, traffic, or other delays. Examine closely language related to cancellation and refunds.
Can you book additional time for an informal or creative session, if desired? What is the cost for such services?
You may wish to have casual pictures taken in advance of the big day, for example, in a park or other special location, in addition to the more formal photos taken at the synagogue, and, later, at the reception. These photos may be used for a photo sign-in book, sign-in board, or video montage, or simply kept as another memento of this period of time in your child’s life.
Can the photographer help with preparation of a montage for showing at the reception, if desired? And what would be the cost for this service?
If you’re planning on showing a montage at the reception and think you may need help putting it together, check to see if the photographer(s) you are considering can provide this assistance and if so, at what cost. It will be easier to consolidate photographic services, rather than having to hire and pay for a separate vendor to handle this kind of project.
Good luck! Let us know if these tips were helpful. Share with us and our readers your experiences in booking and working with mitzvah photographers.