Taking lousy vacation photos? Hire a pro

Gregory Karp

If you find yourself vacationing in Budapest, Hungary, you could preserve travel memories by taking a few arm-length, low-quality cellphone 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.


- QUALITY. 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 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.”


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.


- 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. Examples of online services include Flytographer, Local Lens, Shoot My Travel and Localgrapher.

- GATHER INFORMATION. Research a photographer’s style and note the professionalism of their website and social media channels. Seek information on timing of photo delivery and what format they will be in. Find out about refund policies and quality guarantees.

- 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.

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 provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Gregory Karp is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: gkarp@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @spendingsmart.


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