Why would someone hire a family photographer when they can just take out their smartphone, pile everyone into the bathroom and take a family photo in the mirror? Save for the obvious, there are lots of good reasons to have someone else take portraits for you. But people don’t usually think of them; they either want to hire a photographer or they don’t. But, the more you know about yourself and what motivates you, the better choices you can make.

Photographers come with all kinds of different stripes, styles and personalities. The way one photographer works with you to get a great shot may be wildly different from how another photographer might get a great shot. And the shots they find exciting may be completely different. You can browse photographer’s galleries all day, but you’ll only be getting half of what you need to make the best choice for yourself. The other half is in you.

We always advocate for introspection. Asking ourselves questions, especially difficult questions, leads us to understanding ourselves better. When we know what we want, and why we want it, sometimes there are entirely different options available to us. There is an endless list of questions you might want to ask yourself about the decisions you make, but in pertaining to the task of hiring a family photographer, here are five that I think might really open up your thought processes.

Is this for me, or for my community?

This is one of those tough questions, and either way you answer it is perfectly acceptable. There’s no right or wrong here. That been said, most people seem to have a bias against admitting they are doing something for the approval of someone else. Yet, with the way we use social media, and the way our social networks have expanded in recent years, there’s good reason to believe your interest in creating family photos is, at least in part, motivated by the approval of your community.

Interpersonal politics and a desire to fit, and be accepted within your community is natural. Not everyone is as motivated in this way, but if you are, you may want to consider first whether your particular community will appreciate your family portraits, or whether there are other things they care more about. If taking and displaying nice family photos is popular in your community, hiring a family photographer is the way to go. And, if you do your soul searching and find these photos really are just for you, then you’ll want to find someone whose work you love and hire them post haste.

Do I want to preserve reality, or fantasy?

A portrait takes your family out of the normal flow of life for a short time in order to freeze some elements of it forever. The thing is, sometimes it’s not the real family that you’re looking to preserve, but instead the feeling of your family. Or the way you imagine them, or the way you’d like to fantasize about them.

Maybe your house is a mess, but you’re a superhero keeping the kids eating healthy and on time. If your photographer approaches your family photos capturing the physical realities of your family in portraits, it may paint a different picture than the feeling you have. Perhaps what you really want is to paint a picture of your family on the outside that matches the workings of the family on the inside. Or likewise, maybe you’ve gotten the rain-fly staked down so from the outside your family looks prim and proper and what you really want is to preserve the reality that sometimes life is messy. You might want an entirely different photographer to create those images for you.

Am I the same kind of parent when strangers are around?

This is another tough question because we all prefer to feel like we’re consistent with ourselves. We are often not. When it comes to parenting, a photographer can always tell which ones adopt new parenting techniques when they’re around strangers. It’s common for parents who are very permissive at home to try and become disciplinarians when strangers are around. To a lesser degree, the inverse is true too. Parents who are very strict at home suddenly wanting their kids to require less attention when they’re out in public.

In most cases, this is one of the worst things you can do during a family portrait session. Kids who have grown accustomed to expect one kind of behavior from you will become unpredictable when you give them a different kind of behavior. Most portrait sessions require, above all else, predictability.

Before you hire a photographer, take inventory of your family experiences out in public. Are you the same kind of parent as when you’re at home? If not, you’ll want to consider working on bringing those two versions of yourself closer together, or else make sure your photographer is comfortable working with children who are likely to behave unpredictably. A good photographer will appreciate the heads up. If you find someone who judges you, move on.

How well do I keep my family running “on-time”?

Are you the kind of parent who goes and gets your four year old’s coat and shoes, or are you the kind of parent who tells them to go get them themselves? Neither is right or wrong, but we’re betting the former is more likely to have a family running on time than the latter.

This is relevant to a family portrait session because, while an hour may seem like a long time, a substantial chunk of that can be cut off if your family moves at a slower pace. It’s not uncommon for parents to want their children to do as much for themselves as is appropriate for their age, and we can definitely appreciate the importance of that, but during a portrait session that can lead to the kids being worn out early, or simply losing time since the group will move at the pace of the smallest child.

If you let your family move at the pace of the smallest child, you may want to consider a lifestyle shoot over a few hours during an afternoon. This would produce more naturalistic images, but would also totally respect your children’s self-directed pace, with little need for you to “keep the ball rolling”. On the other hand, if your family scores high with time management, then a more traditional session will probably work just as well for you, and may save you some money.

Are family photos more important to me than my kid’s soccer practice?

Photographers have many days of the week in which to shoot, but only two of those days are weekends. By and large, the best photographers will either be very expensive on those days, or will be inordinately difficult to book. The best thing you can do to keep the cost down and the convenience up is to schedule during the week. However, like most families, to do that, you’ll probably have to compete with your work schedule and your kid’s activities.

It’s worth asking yourself what is more important than these family photos. Is one soccer or ballet practice more important? Is getting the second half of a day at work more important? Or is the savings and the convenience more important? Again, there is no right or wrong answer here, but it’s worth asking. If family photos are not more important to you than any of those things, and not more important than the money and convenience you’d give up to do it on a weekend, they are probably not important enough to pay someone to do in the first place. In that case, you’ve saved yourself big time and you can start piling people into the bathroom immediately.