Phoenix Family Photographer | Why You Shouldn’t Book the Mini Session

April 10, 2018
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Phoenix, Arizona | Family Photography | Portrait Photographer | Virginia Stiles

As an experienced family photographer who gets a pretty steady stream of inquiries for photography, I have been asked roughly 7,853 times if I am offering mini sessions or if I am able to offer a discount for a shorter session with just a few photos.  That’s an actual real piece of data.  I’ve been counting.  Haha.

And while the answer is sometimes yes – I typically offer mini sessions in the fall when everyone seems to just want “one good photo” for their holiday cards – I am really wanting the answer to be no.  No.  No, I do not offer an abbreviated, abridged,  watered-down, 20-minute, HURRY HURRY FAST FAST EVERYONE LOOK OVER HERE REAL QUICK, okay nice to meet you here is your one posed photo, photo session for cheap.  No. No, for YOUR SAKE.  For you.  No.  You deserve more than a mini session.  You deserve the best.  Your family deserves it.  It’s worth it.  It’s worth it to invest in more than the cheapest and the quickest.

Trust me.  I get it.  I get the appeal of the family mini session.  First things first, it’s less money.  I love spending less money for stuff.  If I can spend $100 instead of $500 on something, well sign me up!  Then I’ll have more money for wine!  Win win!  Plus, a mini session is less time, and we all know that spending an hour trying to take photos of your kids is maybe every parent’s exact definition of hell on earth.  15 minute mini photo sessions!  I can tolerate my kids for 15 minutes!  And they can totally behave for 15 minutes! (LIES. FALSE. FAKE NEWS.)  And all you really need is one good photo for the holiday card or to frame above the mantle so you can remember that one time you were all dressed in coordinating outfits and pretending to not be REAL CLOSE to losing your sh*t because your youngest is being a total pill.  Am I right?  Just one good photo!  That can’t possibly be too hard or take too long?!?!

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And as a photographer, I get the appeal too.  Starting my family photography business over in Phoenix after moving here from Colorado a year ago has been slow and difficult.  I’ve done my fair share of mini sessions just to get people to hire me and hopefully spread my name around a bit.  I’ve offered them back in Colorado in hopes of jamming in as many of my past clients while I’m in town.  And they can be great.  I make a little money.  I see a lot of people.  Everyone’s happy.  Except.  I’m just not.  I end up feeling like I’m working the Santa line at JCPenney’s – Smile!  Look here!  Jingle Jingle!  Snap!  Thanks!

Here’s the thing.  Sometimes the money you spend is actually for the experience, the expertise, and the quality of the product.  There is a family photo, and then there is a family photo session.  And those two things are not the same.

Family portrait sunset Arizona mountains real love candid moment

A few years ago, Groupon was all the rage.  Spend $50 and get $100 of food and drink at this cool new restaurant in town!  However, you can only eat on Tuesdays, and you can’t actually order from the menu, and happy hour deals are not included.  Oh, and everyone else there is a Groupon customer, and the place is packed and the service is crap and they unapologetically screw up your order because they aren’t used to this many customers in this short amount of time, and YIKES.  It’s just not even worth the $50 you spent in the first place.

I stopped buying Groupons for this reason – I was tired of spending money for crap.  Yes, it’s discounted and it’s less money – but it’s still crap.  I would rather spend the money and know I will have an excellent experience, eat good food, be treated well, take my time, and walk away feeling relaxed, satisfied, pampered, knowing it was worth every penny.

Y’all.  THIS is how I feel about mini sessions.  Yes, I stand behind my work.  If you book a mini session with me, I will be friendly and I’ll try my best to get everyone smiling.  I’ll use the same equipment (and even make the same fart noises for your kids’ entertainment).  You’ll get a photo or two of your family and you’ll spend less money.

But you are missing out on SO MUCH just to save a little money.  And like I said – sometimes, the money you spend is actually for the experience, the expertise, and the quality of the product.

My full family sessions are a mix of the posed and the playful.  And yes, you want that posed for the mantle or the holiday card, but I promise you – the candids and the details are what will melt your heart and solidify your memories.  We start in one location, with a few “smile and look at me!” photos (but let me ask you – do your kids’ real smiles come out when they’re told to stand still and smile?!?!  Mine?  Not so much.  One kid insists on sticking out his tongue, the other kid smiles using mostly the muscles in his neck… haha).  Regardless, the kids are often nervous and shy at first, so we get a few of everyone sitting still.  And that’s great.

But then we play.  We take a walk.  We follow the light.  We look at our surroundings.  We tickle or sing a song.  Undoubtedly, one of your kids will need to pee or need a drink of water or just need a minute to regroup… and in those little in between moments, some beautiful things happen.  Mom will take a break to feed baby – maybe one of the last times she’ll do that before he stops breastfeeding.  Your oldest will walk with me to toss rocks and pick leaves and I’ll get her to laugh – really laugh.  The littlest will need an extra hug or just a few minutes of quiet in your arms.  Someone will grab a hand or kiss a cheek or stroke an arm.  It’s when we stop taking pictures that I really love taking pictures.  And that doesn’t happen in a mini session.

The images from this recent family photo shoot outside of Phoenix are a perfect example of what we capture in a full session.  We get some posed – and it often happens in small spurts in between large chunks of time playing or crying or just tending to children’s needs – but we get so much more.  We actually have the time to capture the essence of your family.  Some little smiles.  Some serious looks.  Some real snuggles.  Some gentle touches.  Some quiet moments. Some genuine laughs.  And friends.  I swear to you.  It is worth every single penny.   The photos you get, the photos that will last a lifetime – they are priceless.

So let’s not bother with a mini session for your family.  Let’s pretend they don’t exist.  Let’s take that money that you would spend during one thrilling trip to Target on throw pillows and a new vase and some shirts your kids don’t need and book a full session.  Seriously.  So that your photos are real and candid and genuine, and so your experience is one you remember.   This isn’t about money on my end – often, mini sessions are more profitable for me because I can book more of them, spend less time, and deliver way fewer images.  But the photos I deliver are not my heart and soul and they’re not why I do this – nor are they photos of YOUR heart and soul or the details you will cherish for years to come.  Why shouldn’t you book a mini session?  Because you should trust me.  Because the one posed photo is okay, but the other 99 images in this gallery are love personified.  Worth it?  I think so.  And I am usually right.  That is also an actual real piece of data.

Virginia Stiles is an award-winning and published family photographer in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Arcadia, region of Arizona.  Her photos are warm, colorful, candid, authentic, and real – while also being beautifully posed and arranged.  With years of experience as a teacher, camp counselor, and coach – and being a mother herself – Virginia finds so much joy in working with kids and young families.

Want to see more of Virginia’s family photography work?  CLICK HERE!  

Interested in posed or lifestyle newborn photographs?  I do that too!  Click here for details.


I love this post, you are the coolest! I agree wholeheartedly with you. And the images are stunners per usual 🙂

Brittany Wassmer

These images are just perfect. The very first one made me gasp!

I love, love, LOVE this! Your photos are breathtaking and your post is so spot on. There is a reason for a full session and the beauty you capture during one speaks for itself. Beautiful words and photos.

Preach!! I LOVE this post, and you have hit the nail on the head. It IS about the experience – not just the end product. When I look back at my own family portraits, I remember how much fun we had just being together. Beautiful images and light!

YES YES YES YES YES. Oh my gosh yes, on all the sides. People deserve to spend time and actually experience a full session, to be relaxed and not stressed and see the beauty of their family. And on photo side, to feel like you can actually give someone a real memory, not just a squished holiday image. Plus…. the gorgeousness of this session speaks to your work and how important it is to have a full session. love this

Holy crap woman, get out of my head. This needs to go viral and be added to every photographer’s bible and rules. I was just having to explain myself again, to another client why a mini session, while more affordable, is not the best option. I love every.single.word. of this.

Omg. Truer than true! And full sessions are way less stressful because you can take your time and relax! Thank you for speaking your truth here!

Such good and true advice and your style and artwork is worth every penny! You are a true artist.

Wow! What a stunning session! I loved reading your post. Paired with the photos I now understand the true value that a full session offers. No more minis!

You made some fabulous points! And your work is incredible, which shows that it’s definitely worth the money to get such a wonderful experience. And the candid, in betweens are often the best!