As photography technology becomes more affordable and user-friendly, more people are turning their hobby into a money-making business. And with more affordable options, is a full-time professional photographer worth the big investment?
In a side alley in downtown Sioux Falls, Tea High School student Megan Ortmeir poses for her senior pictures.
She's hired Chelsey Hunnel to capture this moment, a photographer who started her own side business, Push Play Photography, last year.
"I've seen what she does and I really like it. Her pricing is reasonable and her pictures are worth it," Ortmeir said.
Hunnel works full time in marketing for a communications company and spends much of her free time taking pictures.
"Sometimes I'll have a wedding on a Saturday, a senior on a Monday, a senior on a Tuesday, a kid on a Wednesday and I do it all after I get off work at five," Hunnel said. "It's week to week. Sometimes I'm busy four days a week and other weeks I don't do anything."
Hunnel always had a passion for photography and now with a camera and Photoshop, she's creating lasting memories for her clients. Hunnel also keeps her prices low, around a couple hundred dollars a session.
"I haven't got the wallets yet, but for the proofs, they were a $1 each for a four by six," Ortmeir said.
"No, I don't make more than $10,000 a year doing it," Hunnel said. "It's not a full-time job by any means, but when you love it and it keeps you creative and keeps you passionate and it is something you love doing, it's a great hobby. Nothing can inspire you more than meeting these people."
And Hunnel adds you don't necessarily need a studio and with advancing technology, even the most inexperienced photographer can create stunning images.
While the photographer landscape has evolved to include hundreds of low-priced options, is it still worth the investment to hire a professional photographer? Michelle Foy sure thinks so.
"Hands down worth the investment," Foy said.
Her daughter, Elizabeth, is in the middle of a major photo shoot for her senior portrait at Rod Evan's studio in downtown Sioux Falls.
Evans ranks among the top 25 photographers in the world. His average customer spends more than $1,000 per session. Today, Foy expects to pay well above that.
"Honestly, I'm not sure. Probably $1,500 plus I would anticipate," Foy said.
With more than 20 years of intense experience under his belt, Evans blurs the line between photography and art. But his biggest passion is instilling self confidence in his clients, a desire coming from personal pain.
"I've been pushed into lockers and shoved in a garbage can a time or two when I was in high school and I know that can break you down a little bit," Evans said. "And if I can do anything to bring or build that back up again, I feel honored to be able to do that."
The advancement in photography is also helping him improve his business, from cutting edge lighting to immediate iPad proofs for parents.
Evans is booked solid and even taking on clients during his days off. And while the added competition from hobby photographers would make others nervous, he says the more the merrier.
"(There have been) a lot of changes in the industry, but I think it's all for the good. And it's all been to promote and help people see and become more passionate about photography," Evans said.
And whether you spend a couple hundred dollars or a couple thousand dollars capturing your special moment, Hunnel and Evans say it all comes down to the quality of the image and which photographer you're most comfortable with.
"It really comes down to each person's discretion," Hunnel said. "What are you looking for in experience? What is your budget? Are you willing to sacrifice quality to have a great experience but maybe not the most wonderful photos but are still great, a good shot of you, your kid and it's what you're looking for?"
Hunnel says this time of year is fairly slow for photographers but picks up again around Christmas for family photos.