A picture can say a thousand words, and when it comes to your new and growing family, the words that a good photo can contain are endless. As a child, I remember going through my family’s photos and looking at pictures of my relatives back when they lived in Fiji and then first moved to Canada. My baby pictures were few but almost every photo now reminds me of my daughter. Up until she was about seven months old, however, she looked just like my husband. We would compare her face to the baby photos of my husband that his mother so carefully kept in large albums and the resemblance was striking.
Now with smartphones, it’s incredibly easy to take as many photos and videos of your child as you want, anytime and anywhere. In a year I’ve already taken almost 1500 photos of my daughter! However, having professional photos taken to remember special occasions is something we still do, so I thought I would share my experience with both studio photos, at-home photos, and hiring a freelance photographer in Japan.
Wedding Photos at a Shrine and Venue/Hotel in Japan
One thing that surprised me when my husband and I started planning our wedding way back in the day was that many shrines and their associated venues/hotels for the reception wouldn’t allow us to hire our own photographer. We also weren’t able to choose the photographer and simply had to go with whoever was working that day and hope that the pictures would be nice. Our wedding was at a small shrine in Hiroshima back in 2016, and we hadn’t looked at venues apart from Hiroshima and Okinawa, so things may be different now, especially in a bigger city.
I completely forgot it’s our six-year wedding anniversary today until my husband said, “Happy Anniversary!” 😅
I guess this is what happens after you have a baby! pic.twitter.com/wzi7a4y1SK
— Kay 🌙 (@tinyintokyo) April 1, 2020
Some (perhaps a majority?) of couples in Japan take photos a few days before the wedding, which is called 前撮り (maedori). The photos tend to be displayed at the wedding, such as on the welcome board, given to parents as a gift at the wedding, and so on. Photos can also be taken after the wedding, such as during the honeymoon, which is called 後撮り (atodori). Maedori and atodori give couples the chance to wear clothes that they won’t wear at the wedding (traditional Japanese wear, such as shiromuku and hakama, is common), and have photos taken at any location they desire, and with any photographer and/or studio of their choosing. Having photos taken before or after the day of the wedding also relieves a lot of the time crunch and pressure that comes with the wedding day.
We had already taken engagement photos in Canada so we chose not to do maedori or atodori. I also already had my hands full trying to plan a wedding with guests from abroad so trying to think of where to take those photos and when was not something I wanted to deal with (not to mention we wanted to avoid the additional expense).
The featured image of this article is a photo of our wedding ceremony at the shrine in Hiroshima and I think the photographer did a fairly good job. He was very friendly, great at giving directions, and took some lovely artistic photos. We were also very lucky that cherry blossoms were in full bloom on the day of the wedding. Looking back, although it would have been nice to be able to choose our own photographer for our wedding day, my husband and I both agree that not really having a choice was the least stressful option (for us)! I also didn’t end up in the spiral of overthinking as I always do when I make a decision.
Studio Photos for Maternity and Omiyamairi Photos in Japan
Places like Studio Alice and Studio Mario are popular for families in Japan to get photos taken, especially as you can rent different types of clothing, can get your hair done, and don’t have to worry about the weather. Photographers are also very experienced with taking photos of children and you’re guaranteed to get perfect shots. Lastly, you aren’t charged by the hour.
Back when I was pregnant in 2019, I didn’t know of any services where I could hire a freelance photographer to take maternity photos outside (which was what I had wanted). I was also tired and didn’t want to think about where to go or what to wear, so I decided to go to a studio a short drive away from my home. One reason why I chose this studio, other than its location, is that it’s run by an international couple who are fluent in both English and Japanese. The photos were also quite stylish, vibrant, and beautiful, which was quite the opposite of the white and wedding-like maternity photos I had seen at Japanese studios.
I was able to choose three outfits and they took care to make sure my hair and clothes were in place while the photos were being taken. They also suggested a bold red dress that I never would have thought to wear and it turned out to be the most stunning outfit out of the three! (Clearly, I don’t know what looks good on me!)
The plan we had chosen only came with digital photos, which was completely fine. (2.5 years later, I’m still debating on whether I should print an album!) The photos were gorgeous but I will admit that the studio setting made them seem too staged for my liking. If I were to do maternity photos again, I would likely choose a freelance photographer from fotowa, which I will talk more about later.
For my daughter’s omiyamairi, we again went with a studio, but this time a local Japanese one that had high reviews and cute kimono to drape on the baby. I was able to rent a formal kimono from there and they also did my hair. I wanted to wear one of my mother-in-law’s formal kimono, which she had worn for special occasions when my husband was a small child, but the studio would charge me a hefty fee for bringing my own kimono, which was annoying considering how expensive the entire photo package already was (the priciest out of all the options covered in this article). However, despite this, it was a good experience, especially as the photos turned out lovely despite our daughter being in an awful mood.
I wrote an article about my family’s experience with our omiyamairi photoshoot, as well as the shrine visit and okuizome, so please have a read if you want to know more!
At-Home Newborn Photos in Japan
Before our daughter was born, my husband and I knew that we wanted to get professional newborn photos of her. However, we weren’t comfortable with taking her to a studio when she was a mere two weeks. After searching online, we decided to go with a studio where the photographer comes directly to your home to take photos. In fact, some of the images on my previous posts are from my daughter’s newborn photoshoot!
A photographer and their assistant arrived early in the morning, and although I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the whole thing as I hadn’t had much sleep, it turned out to be a pleasant experience. They were very friendly and easy to talk with, so I felt at ease quite quickly. Interestingly, the photographer learned how to take newborn photos in the US, so I imagine at least he can speak some English conversationally?
They told us to feed our daughter about an hour before the photographer and their assistant arrived so that she would be happily fed and hopefully sleepy. The assistant very skillfully swaddled our daughter and made her feel nice and cozy, and soon after she fell asleep. And she didn’t wake up for the entire photoshoot! I was able to choose a few different little headbands and hats for her and there were different backgrounds as well. (A small tip — do not choose flowers as a background for your baby because according to my MIL, it looks like a funeral. This might be an old way of thinking as the studio, run by Japanese people, had no issue with this but it’s better to avoid making your in-laws upset!)
Try to avoid taking a photo like this if your in-laws are Japanese!
At the very end, we took family photos, which were absolutely adorable. (Writing this is also reminding me that I need to print the photos so that I can hang them!) We used these photos in our daughter’s birth announcement and even now I love looking back at how tiny and precious she was.
I would absolutely recommend having photos of your newborn taken in your home, and one easy way to do this is to either search online or to use a service like fotowa (the far less tedious option, which I’ll explain next).
Baby girl did her first photo shoot like a pro. Of course she didn’t have a meltdown with the photographers. She likes to save that for mom & dad 😅
But for real, I might have a meltdown when my husband goes back to work in 2 wks. He’s a lifesaver! How do moms do this alone??? pic.twitter.com/eomDYQEWiO
— Kay 🌙 (@tinyintokyo) July 23, 2019
Freelance Photographer for Family Photos in Japan (fotowa)
There are various services you can use to find a freelance photographer in Japan. I’ll be sharing one that my family has used and have had a wonderful experience with so far — fotowa (フォトワ).
I’ve mentioned several times in other posts that fotowa is something I wish I knew about a long time ago, and I really mean it! I think out of all the types of photography services I’ve covered thus far, fotowa is by far my favorite and my husband’s as well. In fact, he said he wants to use this service once a year for our family photos, and this is a big deal because as a former freelance photographer, my husband is quite picky.
With fotowa, you can find a freelance photographer in almost any location in Japan. The more specific you are about where you want to take a photo, the better. Of course, you’ll have more photographers to choose from if you’re searching in a populous area like Tokyo. You can also search by date, time, and occasion:
- couple photos (カップル)
- wedding （前撮り）
- maternity photos (マタニティフォト)
- newborn photos (ニューボーンフォト)
- omiyamairi (お宮参り)
- okuizome (お食い初め)
- shichi-go-san (七五三)
- family photos (家族写真)
- half-birthday (ハーフバースデー)
- birthday (誕生日)
- entrance ceremony (入学卒業)
There are some websites similar to fotowa that allow you to choose a freelance photographer. However, we went with fotowa for several reasons:
- they have the most selection in terms of photographers (and the quality is higher)
- photographers are rated by customers (and unlike some sites, none of the reviews are fake!)
- photographers are carefully selected and vetted by fotowa (for instance, they have to do an interview and trial shoot before they are accepted)
- the photographers tend to be very good with children
- you can get a refund if you’re not satisfied with the photos
- the price is the same regardless of the photographer you hire (and you don’t have to pay for their transportation fee)
- the proofs will be sent to you within a week
- the photographer will send you around 75 photos
- the site lets you know which photographers are fully vaccinated, which is a huge plus in my books
After you input your conditions on fotowa’s website, you can see the profiles of various photographers and their ratings. If there’s one you like after looking through their work, you can make a reservation (予約する) or contact them if you have any questions (質問する). There is a possibility that the photographer cannot come to the location you requested. For instance, we wanted to take photos somewhere around Kawaguchiko, but as we didn’t specifically input Kawaguchiko in the 撮影スポット (photoshoot location) field and were too general, it turned out to be too far for the photographer we had requested and he declined to do the shoot. (And that’s completely understandable!)
As we hadn’t taken a professional family photo since our daughter’s omiyamairi, mainly because of COVID, we decided it would be a nice memory of our time in Tokyo to have some photos with a famous landmark and use them for our new year’s greeting cards (nengajo) for 2022. My husband and I decided on Shiba Koen (芝公園), which has a perfect view of Tokyo Tower, and there were plenty of photographers to choose from. We narrowed down our choices to four photographers and ended up going with a photographer that had high reviews and beautiful family photos. Although we wanted to take photos in the morning (before our daughter’s nap time), he was completely booked until 1 PM. My husband said it would be a bad idea to take photos at that time as the lighting wouldn’t be ideal (especially as I have hereditary dark circles under my eyes), so we decided on 3 PM and hoped our daughter would be in a good mood.
We corresponded through the messaging system on the website (which is very easy to use) and he informed us that he would scope out the location the day of the shoot and contact us an hour beforehand to let us know exactly where to meet. Since our daughter, A, can be quite fussy and wary of strangers, we were worried about how the shoot would go, especially as she cried at her last professional photoshoot for her omiyamairi and then cried again when my husband took photos of her for her first birthday. Now we usually have to bribe her to get her to smile for photos.
It was quite easy to find the photographer (especially as he was carrying a huge lens) and we talked for a bit while he took us to the first location to take photos. It turned out that he has two children, and his daughter is only a month older than A, so he was excellent with children. A warmed up to him very quickly, which shocked us.
Fotowa photoshoots are usually for an hour and we found that to be the perfect amount of time, especially for a toddler. A was running around and giving her sweetest smiles to the photographer (which she hardly does for us if we try to take photos of her, by the way). But near the end of the hour, she started becoming quite fussy and tired. However, if you want to extend the time, you can for an additional fee (and if the photographer is available).
The photographer didn’t give too much direction, which at first bothered me because I’m awkward and don’t know what to do during photoshoots, but the photos turned out very natural and lovely. The location we chose was also quite busy but despite this, he did a great job taking photos that had no one in the background or a few who were obscured.
We had chosen a national holiday to take the photos as my husband had to work on weekdays, but given how crowded it tends to be on weekends and holidays, we decided that in the future it would be a good idea to take photos on a weekday. The weekday rate on fotowa is also less than weekends and holidays.
The proofs are sent to customers within a week, although ours arrived within a day (!). Of course, the speed depends on a variety of factors so it’s important to be patient.
I would say that the quality of all the photos we received were excellent, but in some shots either I was making a strange face or my husband was (likely because we wouldn’t stop talking to each other). I think at 75 cuts that were all taken within an hour, though, it’s bound to happen. (Unless you’re a model who is used to posing… And as I mentioned earlier, I am very awkward.)
We looked through the photos and after approving them, we received the unmarked data. Another thing I liked about fotowa is that they provide plenty of support for customers. For instance, they sent us an email after the photoshoot to see if there were any problems.
Customers should receive at least 75 photos, but the amount for newborns may be less as photographers prioritize their comfort and safety. (Not that they don’t for children or adults, but newborns are quite delicate and sensitive, after all.) Poor weather may also prevent the photographer from taking up to 75 photos.
We will definitely be using fotowa again for our next family photo, which happens to be… our daughter’s shichi-go-san next year! Where is the time going?!
(Lastly, a small tip: it’s probably best for your toddler not to be wearing tights because it’s likely their dress or skirt will run up, as it did for A… Oops!)
This is not a sponsored post.