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New vacation necessity: professional photographer?

July 19, 2012 at 9:53 AM ET

Mariah Milan Dagupion | Photography /
Peter Clarke and his 3-year-old son, Charlie, of Canada hired professional photographer Mariah Milan in December to take pictures of their vacation on Maui, Hawaii.

Some travelers are adding this to their list of vacation necessities: professional photographer.

With friends and family increasingly scrutinizing vacation photos via Facebook, some travelers think photos captured on an iPhone or point-and-shoot no longer cut it. Many vacationing couples and families don’t want to have to worry about packing a camera and all its chargers and cords, while some find that it’s impossible to get everyone in the photo if Dad always has to take the shot.

In response, some vacationers are now hiring professional photographers to capture lasting memories of their trip. Mariah Milan, a Maui-based photographer, says that vacation photography now comprises half her business that was once exclusively wedding shoots. “It started out slowly, and every year it’s gotten busier and busier for families. Year after year I set records.” She added, “Before, it was a luxury item … but now it’s moved more into a kind of experience.”

Likewise for Tricia Keffer, founder of the vacation photography company Tricia & Co. “I’m going to be looking to hire up for this coming winter and summer.”

The business has taken off recently because, for many, vacation photography is more worthwhile than the experiences of the trip itself. But the photos aren’t cheap. Most packages range from $500 to $1,000 an hour. Therefore, tough decisions often have to be made.

“You can either spend $400 to go on a snorkeling thing or you can spend $500 to have the memories of your trip,” said Janna Bridgeman of Regina, Saskatchewan, who booked a vacation photographer when she was in Hawaii over Christmas. “It’s worth it to have the memory.”

But not everyone is convinced that a paid professional is needed. “How it felt to me personally? It was a necessity,” said Bridgeman. “How it felt to my husband and my dad and my brother? It was like, ‘Whatever, we can take our own photos.’”

The “whatever” attitude, however, may be waning.

A variety of upscale hotel chains from the Four Seasons to Rosewood Resorts now offer services of professional photographers, and more families are using these photos for holiday cards and framing enlarged shots to adorn the mantel.

Milan noticed the desire of vacationers to have a final product to take home, and has seen that the photography session has become an experience within itself. “People go to luaus and they experience it, but there’s nothing to take home from it; and, so now, the portrait session for families is kind of a family activity.”

It’s sometimes about showing off, too. “I do get the comment, ‘Oh, can we grab one on this beach for my Facebook profile?’” Milan said.

Stacey Wright, who frequently vacations in Florida with her family and hires a photographer, justifies the expense in order to get great photos of her vacation memories.

“Yes, it’s a luxury,” she said. “I’m just a sucker for pictures.”

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