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Affordable alternatives to high-dollar child portraits

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Snap a photo, not your budget

Every mom wants to remember her child's early years with beautiful photography. But high-dollar portraits can set parents back hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. With these tips, you can say yes to the gorgeous photos and no to the outrageous prices.

Photo session

The price of child photography varies widely, depending on the part of the country you call home. However, it's not uncommon for photographers to charge a $250 sitting fee, plus the cost of prints and digital images. But who can afford that price, especially if you want portraits for every stage of childhood? Here are several viable options for nice photography at a reasonable price.

1

Request a mini-session

Many high-dollar photographers offer mini-sessions for holidays or the changing of seasons, so be sure to request a shortened session if your budget is tight. A mini-session usually includes a 30-minute portrait session plus a handful of digital prints or photos. You won't get as many options or as many prints, but you'll still get a few beautiful shots for framing and sharing. A mini-session can often cut your costs by 75 percent or more.

2

Find a coupon

Next time you go to a newsstand, pick up a baby and toddler magazine. These magazines are usually full of coupons for the photographers located in J.C. Penney, Target and Sears. Look for coupons that advertise a free sitting fee or a deal on prints. If you time it right, you won't have to pay more than $30 or $40 for your images.

3

Scour the classifieds

Although Craigslist has a reputation for shady businesses, there are some great photography deals listed on the site. Go to the section of Craigslist that's dedicated to your town, and look under "Creative Services." You can find fabulous deals from seasoned photographers and newbies alike. Just do your research to make sure it's a legitimate business before you meet for a session.

4

Turn to social media

Facebook is a fantastic way to find local photographers in your area. Put the word out with your Facebook friends to get referrals to photographers who have done good work for them in the past. Many photographers also give discounts exclusive to those who "like" their Facebook pages.

5

Barter your services

Once you find a photographer that you like, extend an offer to exchange services. Bartering sometimes still works in this day and age — especially with less-established photographers. Maybe you are an accountant who can barter your tax advice, a hairstylist who can provide free cuts or coloring, or a baker who can offer some holiday confections in exchange for the photographer's services.

6

Try your hand

Dust off your old camera and snap a few pictures yourself. This might not sound like a great idea, but even amateur photos can look nice with the help of computer editing and retouching. Take your child to a local park and follow him or her around while clicking away, and then upload the images to a free digital editor like Picasa to create a beautiful final product.

7

Start a bidding war

When professionals compete for your business, you're more likely to get a great deal. Check out the website Thumbtack to post the project you want completed, and wait for photographers to provide you with bids. Once you receive your bids on the project, you can hire the photographer with the best price, or use the competing bids for an opportunity to haggle your final price.

8

Volunteer for practice

Thousands of college students are enrolled in photography programs across the U.S., and many of these students are looking for practice. Contact a local university or community college to determine if any students are in the market for new business. Some students are looking for subjects to build their portfolios, and they'll often do sessions for free. Other students may charge a fee, but it will still be just a fraction of the normal price.

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