Amazing Advice on Choosing a Wedding and Family Portrait Photographer in Hawaii

image When I was on Oahu last June, I had the opportunity to meet a delightful and talented photographer, Natalie Norton. She certainly has an expert and creative eye for photography. Just take a look for yourself on her blog at Natalie Norton’s Photo Blog, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

I had never thought of hiring a photographer for a family portrait in Hawaii until I met Natalie, but it makes perfect sense. Hawaii is so beautiful and being there on vacation makes it even more special. So, if you are going there on your dream vacation with your family, or your honeymoon, or your anniversary, consider capturing the moment with professional photos.

Back in June, Natalie kindly agreed to a Q&A about Hawaii photography advice. Today, I’m excited to share with you the first part of that Q&A with a focus finding a photographer for your wedding photos, bridal portraits, and family portraits. I think you’ll really enjoy hearing Natalie’s advice and getting a glimpse of her fun personality. So, let’s get started…

Go Visit Hawaii: Many brides and families who are hiring a photographer for their wedding or family portraits are hiring them from a distance. Since you are a professional wedding/portrait photographer on Oahu what sort of advice to you have for finding and selecting a photographer from a distance?

Natalie Norton: First you’ve got to get clear with yourself. Do you want more formal photos? With everyone perfectly positioned? Or are you leaning toward more of a candid/photo journalistic approach? Do you like hip and modern? Do you like a mixture of all of the above? What I’m saying here is that step one, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for.

imageThen you start the hunt. Clearly you want to check their work. Websites are great, but I’ll tell ya, blogs are better. A website is a great showcase of what the photographer feels is his/her best of their best. Blogs on the other hand are what they’re shooting day in and day out. It’s still what they consider the best of the shoot, but not the best of all the shoots they’ve ever shot. There’s less to choose from for a blog post from a single shoot, see? Blogs are also good because by their posts you can see how often a photographer is shooting-the more often you shoot the more polished your skills. It’s just that simple. You can also get to know them a little bit through the dialog on their blog.

Now, I know this may cause a few gasps, but I think more importantly. . .well, ok, not MORE importantly, but right up there with the quality of the photographer’s work is the way you and your fiance/family will work with them. For your brides and grooms, if there’s time, schedule an engagement session a few days prior to the wedding to warm up to one another. This person you’re hiring is not just going to be capturing your special day for you. . . he/she is going to be SPENDING it with you! You should enjoy their company. I was a guest at a wedding recently where the bride spent the whole day feeling so awkward and uncomfortable in front of her photographer, that all the pictures look just that way. . . awkward and uncomfortable.

Final word: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, DO NOT hire someone based solely on the amount of time they’ve been shooting. Let me elaborate, Joe Shmoe’s been in the business for 25 years? Great. YOU STILL NEED TO SEE HIS WORK! For all you know he peaked in 1988 and hasn’t kept up with the changing photography styles of the last 20 years. Poor Joe? No, poor YOU if you hire him based simply on his years of experience.

Go Visit Hawaii: What sort of questions should you ask a potential photographer?

Natalie Norton: What you need to be sure of is what exactly you’re paying for.

  • How much is the sitting fee?
  • How much time does that include?
  • Does that price include more than one location?
  • Does that include a high resolution disk of my images or are images purchased a la carte?
  • Do you create coffee table albums of your shoots? If so, what is the cost? (I recommend getting one of these if at all possible. How fun to have a coffee table book of your own family looking all bronzed and beautiful in Hawaii! Way better than some other stupid coffee table book that just ends up being used as a coaster because no one ever opens it. Show off a little! You know you want to!)
  • Also ask about post production. How are they going to get the images to you (especially if you’re leaving the island soon after the shoot)? How long should you expect to wait to see your images?

Go Visit Hawaii:
What should you expect to pay for a family portrait session?

Natalie Norton: Sitting fees generally range anywhere from $200-$500 (USD). Most often that includes one hour of shooting on one location and a designated amount (expect a bare minimum of 25 pictures) of digitally enhanced photos for you to CHOOSE from for PURCHASE. You should expect to pay around $5-1$5 for a 4×6 $10-$20 for a 5×7 etc.

Go Visit Hawaii: What should you expect to pay for a wedding photographer in Hawaii?

Natalie Norton: This will depend COMPLETELY on the amount of coverage you want. Good coverage, from a qualified photographer, could run you anywhere from $1,200-10,000.  This depends entirely on the number of hours you need, the number of locations, how many shooters you want at your event, what kinds of products you want in your package (albums, prints, etc).  Don’t be shy to ask a photographer to create a custom package to suit your personal needs!  No two weddings are alike and most photographers are eager to give you exactly what you want for your special day! It only happens once, after all!

I recommend for larger weddings (and small ones if you can afford it) that you hire a photographer who shoots with a “second shooter.” That way none of your special day will be overlooked. A wedding is a lot to cover for one photographer. I will tell you right now that it will be impossible for one photographer to catch EVERYTHING alone.

Final tip on pricing, if you have a photographer that you love and you’re on a budget, let them know. Tell them that you absolutely cannot afford to pay more than x amount and you may be surprised. They may just cut you a deal. Photographers tend to be pretty cool people if I do say so myself. . . .

Go Visit Hawaii: Where are some of the best spots on Oahu for wedding and family portrait photography?

Natalie Norton: One of my favorite beaches to shoot on is Pounder’s Beach (one of the most famous body surfing beaches on Oahu-but watch it, when it’s going off, it’s got a HEAVY shore break and strong currents with no life guard on duty). It’s on the North East Shore near the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is incidentally a MUST VISIT attraction while on the island, so you can kill two birds with one stone. . . not really. . . please DON’T kill any birds. 🙂

image The main thing you’re looking for when scoping out a site for portraits is contrast. I like Pounders because there’s black lava rock, beautiful light colored sand, deep blue water and then the bright green of the Ko’olau Mountain Range in the background. You really can’t go wrong with that much color and contrast.

Another focus when scouting a good backdrop for a portrait is simplicity. . . Pounders is so nice for photography because it’s not a huge tourist spot. When you look back at your photos you’ll want to see you, your loved ones, and the beautiful Pacific, not you and your loved ones with 400 sunburned tourists and their beach umbrellas in the background.

For a lush jungle background, I recommend visiting the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden in Kaneohe (you may even get some shots of the wild boar roaming the park. . . don’t worry though, they aren’t freaky monsters like on Lost, but I’d still recommend keeping my distance). Remember the tip I gave you about a nice clean background. A common mistake when you want foliage in the background is getting too close to it. Step 15-20ft out from the bushes and trees. Your subject will pop out, rather than getting lost in the busyness of all the leaves, branches and vines.

Go Visit Hawaii: Are some times of the day better than others for portrait photography? If so when are they and how do you determine the best times?

Natalie Norton: Absolutely. Evening is your best bet. I love shooting at sunrise as well, but good luck getting your honeymooners up at the crack of dawn . . .or your jet lagged teenager for that matter. The beauty of the early morning and late afternoon/early evening is that the light softens. It’s coming down at an angle so you won’t get the dark shadows under your eyes and nose typical of shooting mid-day. The sun also has warmer tones at those times as well. Nothing will help your images say “paradise” like a natural filter of warm yellows and soft pinks.

If you are forced to shoot your loved one mid-day: step into the shade. It will filter the sun for you and give you more pleasing shadows.

Go Visit Hawaii: What are things should you avoid wearing for a family portrait?

Natalie Norton: I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but matching aloha (Hawaiian print) wear for the whole family. . . not the most flattering portrait attire. Pick simple, harmonious colors. Solids are always nice. You want your bronzed cheeks and relaxed smile to be the focus of the photo, not the alarmingly bright hibiscus flowers all over your clothing.

Something else to think about is this: how often does your entire family go out on the town wearing matching white polo shirts. . . um never. . . EVER (I hope)! Remember that you want your portraits to have a harmony of style and color but not necessarily everyone wearing the exact same thing. It’s nice to see people’s individual personalities come out in a shot as well as strong family harmony.

Natalie lives and shoots on the North Shore of Oahu with her husband Richie and her 3 sons, Raleigh (4), Cardon (2), and Lincoln (18 months). To view a sample of her work or to book a session, visit Natalie Norton Photography.

Be sure and check out part two of an interview with Natalie where she gives us photography advice for our Hawaii vacation photos.

Photo credit to Natalie Norton, of course. 🙂

  1. Randy Focht – [] does a great job with this as well. He does a sightseeing tour where he drives you around the island and photographs you at all the best scenic locations.

  2. Two words: Shawn Starr.

    [link removed]

    Ultra professional, really nice guy, and most importantly, a brilliant photographer. This guy could charge 5X what he currently does and it would still be a value.

  3. WOW, what great advice from Natalie!

    Having met her, I can tell you that she’s the type of person that’s not going to rest until you’re 1000% delighted with her work.

    I can’t wait to read the second installment!

  4. Great write up. My wife and I know of Natalie as well and we swear by her work. She has a family and kids of her own and will have suggestions you would of never thought of that will create the perfect pictures.

  5. @ Dave & Tiabla – Based on the postcard photos, picture books, etc., I’m sure Oahu has some fantastic photographers.

    @ Andy – I hope you’ll like the second installment, especially since you’re a budding photographer yourself. 🙂

    @ Chris – Thanks for sharing your insight about Natalie. She is creative.

  6. On a recent visit to Hawaii, I had a beach portrait session at Lanikai beach with AinaKai Photography ( Photographer Richard Wainscoat did an amazing job and he went above and beyond my expectations for a photographer. Highly recommended. Richard is based in Kailua, Oahu.

  7. I agree the more prepared you are the better. Know what kind of photos you want. Look through mags, friends alboms, etc… You can email example shots to your photographer too!

    Another really good resource that just got put up is for asking about photographers on your destination island, as well as sharing your own photos.

  8. I am a photographer on Maui and I totally agree with Natalie, be sure to do your research! All photographers set up their packages differently, be sure to find one who fits your needs. If you are not very computer savvy or don’t want to fuss with making your own prints, find someone with a low sitting fee that will sell you prints after your session. If you know you are going to want a disc with your images so you can make your own prints or get creative with scrapbooking, find a photographer that will either include the disc with the sitting fee or sell it to you. Just be sure to price out how much the disc is. One photographer might charge you a sitting fee of only $200.00 but charge you 300-400 dollars for a disc. Another photographer might charge a sitting fee of $500.00 but include the disc in the package.

    Of course you want to be sure and love the photographer’s style as well, shop on pricing AND which photographer has pictures that evoke emotion in you. If you get an emotional response to someone’s work, you most likely will love your pictures as well.

    Happy vacationing in Hawaii!!

    1. Personally, I feel that Portraits are Family Art Treasures…and I’m not alone in this. So I feel that it’s much more important to “shop” for a photographer whose work you admire first. Then interview a few to see who you communicate and connect with well, and who gives you confidence that they will do a great job for you. Then I believe the only way you will get the kind of quality art you seek is to have the professional provide the final portraits. They are, after all, much more than just “prints”. And Portraits are an investment that will last for generations…if you choose the right photographer!

  9. Another big thumbs up for Natalie! Not only is she extremely talented, but her personality is so wonderful that just being near her is a blessing.

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