Selecting right bar/bat mitzvah photographer is key

After all the dreaming, planning, studying, and worrying, what do you have left when the bar or bat mitzvah day is over?

Besides the bills, that is.

The newly recognized adult may have a healthier bank account and a sense of relief the stress has ended. The parents may have party leftovers to clean up. But other than that, how can you remember this most important of days?

The photo album and video of the celebration will become treasured reminders of the day your child accepted the responsibilities of becoming a Jewish adult.

How grown-up they look, up on the bimah, dressed in all their finery! Years from now, looking back at the picture of the child standing with an open ark in the background will still bring a lump to your throat.

In order to be assured of the finest photographic and video memories, be sure to do your homework. Many of the most popular photographers are booked up at least a year in advance, so try to make a selection early enough to reserve your date.

How do you choose your photographic services? One of the best ways is through referrals. Look at your friends' albums, and ask them about their experiences with the professional who handled the job. Was the photographer unobtrusive, or did the guests find him or her annoying?

Other things to consider before signing a contract:

*If you sign a contract with a studio without specifying a photographer by name, you will have no idea of the quality of the photographer's work. Be sure to look through albums at the studio and inquire about those people whose work you like.

*Does the photographer work alone or with a second light (either on a pole or with a "light man")? Most studios charge extra for the second light. If your budget allows, request the second light for formal pictures. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how much better the pictures look when the background shadows are eliminated.

*Can you purchase the proofs, or are they part of the package?

*How long does the studio keep the negatives on file? If you call in six years, will you be able to get a replacement photo?

*Does the studio also have a videographer? If so, is there a savings in contracting for both the video and the stills from the same studio? If not, you are still able to check out other video companies and decide on the basis of cost, quality and accessibility. Again, it is a good idea to ask for recommendations.

*What kind of albums does the studio offer? Will you have a choice between matted and full-page photos?

*How soon after the event will you see proofs? And how soon after that will you have your finished photos and albums?

If your budget is tight, you might consider contracting with a photographer who will take the pictures and hand you the film. You can then handle the developing and use a simple store-bought photo album. Remember, it's the memories that count.

Some people ask friends to handle the photography and/or the videography. While this may save you money, it can also end your friendship. Keep in mind that if you invite people as guests but expect them to work, they will not be able to dance, be in pictures, or relax and visit. They may also make mistakes.

If a professional photographer makes a mistake, he or she will usually be able to make it up to you, either with a reduction in price, or extra shots. But if your good friend Adam forgets to put film in the camera, you have nothing to fall back on.

A professional photographer will also help facilitate the flow of the event. Between the band or DJ and the photographer, you will be ushered from taking pictures to entering the ballroom to beginning the candlelighting ceremony to sharing the first dance.

The professionals have been to numerous affairs, and are more than capable of helping you tailor your celebration to your special requirements.

Above all, having a professional will allow you to relax and enjoy the event. And, a few months later, as you thumb through the album or watch the video, you will have only the best memories of a very special occasion.