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How to get professional photos taken in Japan (without paying a fortune)

Though it can be pricey, hiring a professional photographer for milestone occasions is an expense that is well worth the cost (to a certain extent). As the mother of a toddler, my one main regret is not getting professional photos of her in that fleeting newborn phase. Back then, I was so overwhelmed with, well, everything, that I didn’t get to truly savor all of her newness and tininess. Now that we’re heading into Shichigosan (753 festival) season, I want to correct my mistake and beautifully capture this stage in her life (and provide some keepsakes for grandparents on both sides of the ocean). Whether you’re looking into getting engagement/wedding photos, maternity, family portraits, or holiday pictures taken, I’ve figured out a few methods to get beautiful shots without breaking the bank.

Option 1: Hire a Freelancer

Photo by Tuu1ea5n Kiu1ec7t Jr. on

Hiring a freelance photographer is generally going to be cheaper than going with a studio. Someone who is just launching their business might even give you a hefty discount for the right to use the photos to promote their services. Social media is a great place to start your search. If there aren’t any within your friend circle, simply poking around Instagram can turn up quite a few decently-priced local photographers. Search relevant hashtags like city name + photographer (or フォトグラファー) and click around from there.

So how much will hiring a pro run you? Here are five quotes that I’ve collected myself, through friends, or through the photographers’ websites. All quotes are for outdoor shoots (local park, landmark, etc.) and do not include the cost of attire/hair/makeup.

  1. Personal Friend – 1 hour shoot – all data + 10 edited = ¥15,000
  2. Friend of Friend – 1 hour shoot – all data + 5 edited = ¥10,000
  3. Friend of a Friend (award-winning photographer)- 30 minute “mini shoot” (other clients will shoot before and after)- 10 edited images = ¥25,000
  4. Local (website)- 1 hour shoot – 60 + unedited images = ¥18,000 – ¥24,000 (depending on day of week)
  5. Local (website)- 1 hour shoot – 30 images= ¥20,000

As you can see, for a freelancer, you can expect to pay in the range of ¥10,000-25,000 for a one hour shoot with the finished product delivered via data. However, for a well established/popular photographer, it’s not unheard of to see rates above ¥50,000.

Option 2: Small Studios

Photo by Anna Shvets on

Another good option is to go with an independently-owned/small studio. When looking online for a studio, you’re going to want to include this search term: データのみ. Why is this so important? I’ll explain this more in the next section, but selling prints is the number one way that Japanese chain studios jack up their prices to astronomical levels.

Although the prices for studios are generally a little higher than for freelancers, keep in mind that they include the use of the studio (no weather concerns), costuming, props, set design and hair/makeup. They may also offer “early bird” deals well in advance of major holidays or special weekday rates.

  1. Local studio – 1 hour shoot – 20 images = ¥25,800 + tax
  2. Local studio – 1 hour shoot – 50 images = ¥19,800 – 24,800 + tax (weekday/weekend)
  3. Local studio – 1 hour shoot – all data = ¥38,000 + tax

From this, you can assume that a good price for a studio is around ¥20,000 – 35,000 for an hour long shoot, with one set and one choice of clothing. If you’d like to add costume changes/additional sets or have more than one main subject (two children, for instance), the price will go up another ¥10-20,000 from there. However, most schichigosan/kid-centered plans I saw did allow family members to join in for a few shots for free.

BEWARE: Large Chain Studios

If you ask Japanese friends or family members for photo studio recommendations, they might suggest one of the major chains like Studio Mario, Studio Alice, or a number of similar-sounding operations.

You’ll know you’re in dangerous water when the advertisement/website does not immediately display a package price. Usually, these places will present you with some way-too-good-to-be-true offer like “¥0 photographer fee” or “Five free gifts with purchase!” or something along those lines. Eventually, once they are done elaborating on all the special offers, they’ll get to the real money-maker: prints.

A package of prints usually starts at ¥40,000 or so… starts being the key word. The basic package is usually for two images. Maybe three. What about the data? Most of the time, these large studios don’t offer a data package without a minimum spend (usually ¥50,000 and up).

They also use a number of hard sell tactics to get you to spend more than you originally intended. Their most common tactic is to sit you down after the session is over and show you all of the amazing photos that they took, and how you can only get them if you upgrade to the next package rank. If you bring grandma along, she’s likely to have pulled out her wallet before you’ve even settled into your chair.

So how much does one of these packages end up costing? Well, according to a quick search of Yahoo’s forums about shichigosan, many customers reported spending ¥60,000-100,000, with some spending well over that amount!

That’s why I recommend going with professionals who work with DATA ONLY and have their prices clearly and plainly listed. I don’t know about you, but I strongly detest deceptive offers and high-pressure sales environments. If you want prints, you can take your data to one of the many camera stores in Japan and get prints and nice frames for everyone in your family for well below ¥10,000.

I hope this article helped you make a more informed choice about getting professional photos done in Japan! If you’d like to share your own experience getting photos taken here, please comment below!

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