So Long, Selfie Stick. For Better Vacation Photos, Go With a Pro

Gregory Karp
By Gregory Karp 
Edited by Kenley Young

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If you find yourself vacationing in Budapest, Hungary, you could preserve travel memories by taking a few arm-length, low-quality cell phone selfies that will fail to capture the magic of your visit.

Or you could hire someone like Dana J. Ardell, a Budapest-based professional photographer who knows photo spots you’ll never find in a guidebook and who can deliver stunning pictures — with your whole travel party in the shots.

Ardell is a photographer with Flytographer, one of a growing number of online services that help travelers find and hire a photographer to take pictures of them during a vacation.

“People who believe memories are the best souvenir” are among those who will find value in photo services, said Flytographer founder and CEO Nicole Smith.

Still, the cost could run a few hundred dollars, so be smart about whom you hire. Here’s what to know about hiring a pro to take pictures on your next vacation or bucket-list trip.

Why hire a vacation photographer?


Vacations usually involve a lot of planning, money and great moments. “The problem is, the photos don’t always match that marvelous time they’re having,” Smith said.

Smartphone cameras are decent, but they don’t provide the same caliber of pictures as a professional camera and lens. Plus, phone cameras aren’t usually operated by a skilled photographer who knows how to incorporate the best light and properly compose a shot and later edit the images.

If you don’t want a photo with a sailboat mast sticking out of your child’s head or a city sidewalk shot so dark it makes people unrecognizable, a pro might be the way to go.

And if you plan to turn a vacation photo into a wall-worthy print, you’ll want something better than a cell phone snapshot. “Nobody’s going to blow up a blurry selfie with seven chins,” Smith said.

Everyone is in the photo

Travel photos often involve two undesirable choices: a selfie stick or handing your camera to a stranger in hopes they take a decent shot of everybody.

It’s the reason Ardell hired vacation photographers for trips to Amsterdam and Glasgow, Scotland. “I know, personally, even as a photographer, if my husband and I are on vacation, we end up getting solo shots of each other or arm’s-length selfies that aren’t very flattering,” she said.

Local knowledge

Photographers who live in your destination know where and when to shoot — when the light is most favorable and where you won’t be jostling with other tourists during busy times at landmarks.

Local contact

Part of the benefit of hiring a trip photographer has nothing to do with photos — it’s interacting with a resident, gaining insight into how locals live. It’s part of what Ardell offers in her sessions in Budapest. “We chat the whole time,” she said. “I love giving recommendations on my favorite places to eat and things to do around the city.”

How much it costs

Hiring a vacation photographer typically isn’t cheap, but it might seem surprisingly reasonable for a vacation costing thousands of dollars.

Sessions are typically priced by time. With Flytographer, for example, shoots start at 30 minutes for $250, although an hourlong session with 30 photos for $350 is more common, Smith said. It’s customary to pay the full price when you book.

With Local Lens, another booking service, pricing varies by city but generally is about $200 for a half-hour to around $500 for two hours. Another service, Localgrapher, says its most popular package is one hour, which includes 35 photos for $350.

How to book a pro

Go online: You could do your own research to find someone in the place you’re visiting. But online booking services could make hiring a photographer easier, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t speak the language. With many, you choose the city, then read biographies of local photographers, look at their portfolios and pick one. Note the professionalism of their website and social media channels. Examples of online services include Flytographer, Local Lens, Shoot My Travel and Localgrapher.

Choose a package: An hourlong session offers enough time for photos at a couple of locations and gives vacationers time to warm up in front of the camera. But a half-hour shoot can work for those tight on time or budget, Smith said.

Book early: Earlier booking — several weeks out — means a wider selection of photographers, days and times.

Be clear about ...

Goals: Talk to the photographer about your expectations for the shoot. If there’s a big group, what combinations of people will be in the photos together? Do you want more candid shots, posed shots or both?

Photo delivery timing: Find out when you can expect your photos — are you talking days, so you might have time to share a few on social media while still vacationing, or weeks? Many services promise photos within several days.

Photo format: You’ll likely get high-resolution digital photos instead of prints, but know what to expect for the price you pay.

Video: If you want video, inquire specifically about it. Flytographer, for example, offers only still photography.

Refund policy: If you can’t meet for the session, need to reschedule or change your mind, can you get some or all of your money back?

Quality guarantee: What’s the policy for getting a refund if you’re dissatisfied with the session or the photos?

If you’ve taken fabulous journeys but your photos just don’t match, hiring a vacation photographer might be the ticket to preserving memories.

This article was written by NerdWallet and a version was originally published by The Associated Press.

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