The School Photo Racket

  1. Meghan Williams says:

    oh my word! I would fall out too! We just had our K3 pictures (to which we pay monthly tuition) and the prices for the pictures weren’t that bad, but I was dumbfounded when we had a fall festival this week which required us to pay for our entire family to enter (my student doesn’t even get a discount) when we are also required to work at least 1 shift in our “class sponsored booth” … um, excuse me? I have to pay to enter to volunteer?? What?!?!

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m sure that private schools need fundraisers, too, but I don’t have that same urge to help out that I do when my daughter’s public school holds a fundraiser– mostly because private preschool tuition takes such a big toll on our finances already. 

      • Carl Rood says:

        Speaking of fundraisers.  My kids’ school (public) sends home a catalog with various items (wrapping paper, kitchen dodads, magazines,etc.) in the first month of school from the PTA.  Most of the stuff is crap that no one wants.  While that sale is still going on, they send home a cookie fundraiser for Special Ed PTA.

        How many times do they think I can hit up friends and relatives?

  2. NancyB says:

    I love school pictures!!  I still have a few of mine and I have Cody’s from 3 years old through his senior high school pictures.  I looked at it as his one “formal” picture a year even though I took millions of pictures of him throughout the years.  I will agree – the prices got more expensive over the years. I didn’t pay as much but I always got the 8×10(us), 4-5×7(family) and 30 or so wallets for other family and friends.
    His 3 year old picture he was crying hysterically because he didn’t want to wear the khaki pants, white turtleneck and v-neck cardigan (OMG he looked so cute!) but his picture is priceless.  The biggest laughing smile on his face.

    • Anonymous says:

      These prices really struck me because I think LifeTouch is WAY overpriced, and these were five times as much! The other thing that really bothered me was that they had already printed out the entire package. So they print all that stuff out for each child and then just end up throwing it all away… 

      • NancyB says:

        LifeTouch sounds familiar but it’s been about 6 years since school pictures.  That is alot of waste of ink and paper to already have them printed out.  Like someone later said too – we had to pay for the package we wanted and hand it in the day the pictures were taken so it’s kind of a crapshoot.  But they did retakes later in the year.  My kid is incredibly photogenic though – LOL.

        • Cranrazz says:

          My son started high school this year and HATES having his photo taken so I agreed we didn’t have to buy any. This is the first year I didn’t send a check in on picture day (also Lifetouch) and know what? I got a set of proofs with the option to buy online. There’s always another opportunity…..

  3. Anonymous says:

    i’ve always wondered why they don’t realize that by lowering the prices, they would probably make as much if not more money out of quantity…we all love our little darlings and would buy things up if the price is right

  4. Rebeccah Connelly says:

    See, ours are horrible AND cheap. So bad that even the kids don’t want me to buy them. One year I swear to all that is holy that both of my children were unrecognizable – Will looked like he’d been on a five day coke binge and Cecilia’s hair was literally covering the majority of her face. I buy the absolute cheapest thing I can and like you, take my own pics. I’ve seen enough of yours to know which ones are besttest…

    • Anonymous says:

      Ha ha ha! My daughter’s school has started making you pre-order school photos– BEFORE YOU EVEN SEE THEM. Drives me CRAZY!!!!

      • Dawnan says:

        We also have Lifetouch at our school. We have to prepay for Fall photos, but we don’t have to prepay for Spring. Spring tends to have the uglier backgrounds. They are also the photos that are not good. My younger daughter’s were so bad last week, that I couldn’t even bring myself to scan them to send around for laughs.

  5. Brooke Widmer says:

    I completely agree that those prices are ridiculous!  And I have opted for smaller “packages” as well…honestly because I never get around to actually cutting out the wallets and sending to family.  I’ve got a stack of envelopes of school pictures that date back to when my 2nd grader was in preschool!  On the fundraiser note, it’s only like 10% to the school, right?  They are eating up their own profits by printing packages regardless of wether anyone buys them. (or I guess they make up for that with the moms who can’t bear to leave a pre-printed sheet behind)  They ought to donate those extras to the school and let the kids use them for an art project! 

  6. Kimberly says:

    Oh, the many, many rackets I have to look forward too.  *sigh*  By the way I just LOVE that first picture.  I hope you get to keep the proof for future use 😉

  7. Knewman4 says:

    Bwa ha ha!  School photos—-they seem so horribly horribly useless for this—the most photographed, blogged about, chronicled generation IN THE HISTORY OF HUMAN KIND.  We still get the cheapest photo package at my son’s elementary school, but I don’t know why!  As I write this I have 16,000 photos on my hard drive.  Most of them are of my kids.  And this represents only the pictures I have take in the LAST FIVE YEARS.  Crazy.  Anyway, Bruiser is adorable, and I love his style.

    • Anonymous says:

      I KNOW, I’m thinking the same thing. I’ve got thousands of photos of Bruiser. Why do I need a crappy school picture? It’s purely for the nostalgia factor, I think!

      • Nancy says:

        Lindsay, wait til you have one of those frames with K-12 pics. I’m missing a year or two because I was either hacked at the awful pic/price OR my son had wadded it up in his backpack in HS and I never saw them. Now, I think the missing years represent this tribute – or people may think they represent the years I had locked him in a closet. All good.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ya, you were getting jacked. At our kids preschool, they had photographers come. They always got great pictures (like the third one of Bruiser) but the prices were reasonable. It was not a ‘fundraiser.’ The amount the school gets back, you are better off cutting them a check… 

    Now that ours are both in elementary, the school has yearbook photos. (The yearbook is rolled into tuition). Again, the pricing schemes are far more reasonable than what you were offered. Ask the preschool to get a different vendor. 

  9. Anonymous says:

    Oh…was it lifetouch. They took over Michaels, who did my kids preschool. The quality was less, but the prices weren’t that high.

  10. Melissa says:

    Dude. That’s sick. I don’t remember pictures costing that much when I was in school. 

  11. Boricua_keya says:

    This post sent me on an emotional rollercoaster!! The prices?! I would have stood there like “really? really lady? really?.” Yea, a fast NO would have shot out of my mouth too. They are getting out of control with these things. BUT i will say to you I’m laying down in my coffin right now And you can close it because that SECOND PICTURE MADE ME DIE!!!! Kids are as honest as it gets lol. I mean, ugh! Who doesn’t get down with the Bruiser style?!

    • Anonymous says:

      I showed him that proof later and said, “Do you remember taking this photo?” He looked at it and said, “Yeah. I didn’t like what they were doing dere.” WELL CLEARLY.  ;D

  12. cheesehead4ever says:

    Those are great photos and the poses are much better than the basic grey background with the standard head shot.  But those prices are unreal!  Ours don’t cost nearly that much, but like another poster, we have to purchase the packages before seeing the pics with options to buy more after we receive the photos.
    If you want good, cheap photos, try Penneys.  We’ve had great luck with the photographers.  Plus there are always coupons in the paper.  I think you can usually get a deal with no sitting fee and 50% off all the prints you order. 

    • Anonymous says:

      I always meant to do the department store photo when the kids were smaller– just because I had those photos from when I was a kid– but I never got around to it. Now, I’m just glad I invested in a camera of my own. I like to think that their childhood photos will be even more special to them because I took them. *fingers crossed*

  13. Christy Duke says:

    my DDs school decided not to invite a professional photographer back after such a racket the year before last.  Last year, a mom who is a great photographer donated her time and took pics herself (playground candids!) printed out many sheets of photos and burned all the pics to CD…..She charged $5 for her expenses, parents were charged $30….And YOU with the kickass lens!

    • Anonymous says:

      Last year, they had a photographer come in and do awesome black and white portraits. The racket there was that you HAD to buy a ginormous $30 photo in order to get smaller ones, but the photo was AWESOME, so I really didn’t mind…

  14. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t buy them simply because I HATE the fake background.

    Olan Mills came to our church to take photos of all the families.  The pastors allowed it because they were giving us free church directories and each family got a free 8×10.  The directories took forever to be delivered–like 8 months or so.  I think it’s because very few families bought the $300 packages they tried to sell.  I proudly worship with a group of tightwads, of which I am one.

  15. Jenna@CallHerHappy says:

    You should just start framing the proofs. Just tell people you’re teaching your kids about saving the environment and a buck!

    • Anonymous says:

      Ha! That would be AWESOME!! I should also dumpster dive behind the photo studio afterward and get all my son’s photos FOR FREE!! And then I could sell the rest of the photos on the black market!

  16. Katrina says:

    This year, for the first time, we had a local professional photographer come in instead of one of the big companies. She took photos outside in our prayer garden, and they turned out amazing! The best part–you could buy a CD with three individual poses of your child and a class picture on it for only $20, with FULL RIGHTS to all the photos to print or use however you wanted.

    We’ll never go back to Olan Mills!

    • Anonymous says:

      Honestly, this whole thing makes ME want to do the same thing- offer MY services at a fraction of the cost! I think I went into the wrong line of work! LOL

  17. Brooke says:

    Wow. At my daughters daycare, the package is $20, period. No options. The photos aren’t that great (but getting one of my daughter takes lots of patience) but atleast they are reasonable. Thankfully her pricey preschool does not do fund raisers. We pay tuition and book fees, and are asked to donate to class treat jars, bring candy/food for special occasions. They have one fund raiser a year, and it’s for a charity. I am oh so thankful after reading your post!

  18. Wes says:

    Good thing you have that expensive lens.  There’s no way you’ll get any quality pics from an actual professional photographer if you’re that tight.

  19. KelleyWinslett says:

    No way Jose!
    Our packages are the same, and I chose the 29.99-39.99 pkg too! BUT, I did get to take baby sister to Hs photo session and so I got some of both kids. The photographer was a JERK though.

    • Anonymous says:

      Jerk photographers are weird. Why are they even doing that for a living if they’re going to be rude about it?!

  20. Islandmummy says:

    Wow, my children’s preschool photos start under $20 if I remember. I usually get a package for $28 which includes a group photo, a 5 x 7, 2 4 x 6s and 8 wallet sized. It’s plenty for our needs. But you do pay before seeing them.

    My daughter’s kindergarten photo proofs came this week. She has crazy face! lol But the packages range from $24 – $49. You have a choice of 2 poses and it’s just a plain blue background.

    As far as I am concerned this is adequate. We will probably order the $30 package that gets us photos for ourselves, the grandparents, and a few close family.

    Personally I much prefer real family pictures to posed portraits in any case. With everyone having a digital camera these days, we have more pictures to choose from than ever before.

    I think the need for school photos was much greater when few people owned cameras. And if they are going to do them, they should be affordable for everyone.

    • Anonymous says:

      Our kids probably won’t even want them for their own children. I think we buy them now just because they remind us of our own school pictures…

  21. rebecca says:

    I hear you!  We just had our church directory pics taken by LifeTouch and paid $100 for 2 sets of 5x7s… you read that right, $100 for FOUR photographs.  WHAT A RACKET.  But of course, I paid, because their sales pitch is pretty pushy and my kids are so damn cute… argh!

    • Anonymous says:

      LOL, I think we all pay for the too-high photos, all the time!  I’m thinking of Santa photos in particular. 😀

  22. Maria says:

    Ridiculous. We got out while we could 50-65 for a small package of two or three sheets…but they were absolutely gorgeous.

  23. Mary A says:

    I KNOW!  My policy is that I will buy ONE set of school photos per year.  (They are taken twice a year here.  Because children change so much in 6 months.  eyeroll).  Also, I buy the dorkiest ones.  I figger that I will be glad when senior yearbooks come around.  And, since I am a scrapbooker (insert sheepish grin), I have enough photos of my kids to fill 3 presidential libraries. 

    As for fundraisers?  Maybe I better get back to my OWN blog for that one.  ‘Cause I have some thoughts.

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh fundraisers. The bane of parents everywhere. And yes, two school photos a year (or three in my daughter’s school’s case) is COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS. The holiday photos are the worst. Last year, they were crazy high and they had my daughter sitting there holding a fake present so old that the paint was coming off of it. Look, if you can’t even keep your props in good working order, how do you get off charging $30 per photo?

  24. Nicole says:

    $160 for preschool pictures! That’s complete madness! But Bruiser does look adorable. Even in the one of him showing off his “Bruiser style”

    My son had his preschool pictures not too long ago. I know I’ll be buying a package to send to the grandparents. Because I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t. Even though I post 100 pictures a week on the photo blog I keep for them.

    And fundraisers? Oh man, I hate them. I know they’re for a good cause, but I think I’d like it better if every month they just asked for $50 or whatever, instead of guilting me into buying crap I don’t want or need.

    • Anonymous says:

      I know the feeling- I added all the kids’ grandparents to my Flickr account and post photos of the kids there several times a week, and even order photos off the site if they want. I sent an e-mail explaining the whole process (which is two steps- sign in to Flickr, go to my link!) NOT ONE of them ever, ever look at it!  *sigh*

  25. Sodapple09 says:

    Wow! And I thought living in Nyc was expensive, the most expensive package on my child’s picture package was $89.99 and you could add more things for $10. Shocked. My mouth would have literally dropped if I hard those prices.

    • Anonymous says:

      This was the first time I’ve seen prices like these. My daughter’s school uses Lifetouch and they’re high, but not CRAZY UNREASONABLy high, like this place!

  26. Kelly @ JourneysAndDetours says:

    Wow. Now I’m scared. My daughter just had her pre-school picture taken and I haven’t gotten a peek at the price list yet 🙂 Actually this was the first time I did NOT have to choose a package and pay ahead of time which I always thought was ridiculous. And I had to choose a background ahead of time (I guess they use green screens because she wasn’t allowed to wear green). I also must say I have never heard of schools doing photos as a fundraiser, which I must say, isn’t a bad idea (although I am with you on the fundraising overload!).

    As I have been reading your blog for years though, I can say that you take the most awesome photos of those cutie pies of yours and don’t need no stinkin’ school photo. But his smile…how can it not suck you in?

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks, Kelly! That’s another HUGE problem I have- Having to order the photo package before I’ve even seen the photos! UGH.

  27. Ame says:

    I LUUVV myself some fundraisers, where a portion of the proceeds go to the SCHOOL!
    I know the photogs are “professionals”, but for the love of Pete, I take better photos and I would do it for $5 plus cost.

  28. Wow, that is really expensive for preschool photos.  Wait until you get to high-school senior year photos.  I feel I was duped into buying those.

  29. Livestar says:

    I am one of those moms who can’t bear to leave a preprinted sheet of my baby behind. I think I bought the whole shebang last year. It pains me to think of pictures of my little girl in the dumpster. Yes, I am a sucker.

    • Anonymous says:

      It makes me so angry to think that these photography companies are taking advantage of moms like you- and I totally know how you feel!! Grrrr.

  30. Lindsay says:

    I definitely just went through the same hoopla with my girls’ photos. However, I’ve gotta say I am impressed every single time they take their photos together – with both of them in the picture. I just assumed they would milk me for all I’m worth (not much) but they actually make it a point to put them together so I can save a buck. It’s definitely not lost on me!

  31. Hindsangelaj says:

    My husband and I have an agreement-no more school photo purchases. We never get to see them before we buy them and more often than not-we’re stuck with less than, well…they’re awful. Cowlicks that weren’t there that morning, lunch schmeered down their shirts…you get the idea. I’ve had much better luck taking my own pictures and hauling myself to the local wal mart or CVS and making my own danged photo packages. BTW- Bruiser is so adorable 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you!

      I was less than thrilled when Punky got home from school pictures and told me, “Mommy, it was great! We had a substitute and she let us all play tag in the gym while we were waiting to take our pictures!” I had carefully curled her hair that morning and let her wear a dress my grandmother had made for me.  I was LIVID. What kind of substitute wouldn’t KNOW better than to let the kids run wild before their photos were taken?!

  32. cheesehead4ever says:

    I don’t understand why some photos aren’t taken the moment they get to school.  Before a recess takes place or any food is eaten.

    We switched schools last year after moving and discovered the joy of picture taking the night of Open House!  We arrive at school in the evening with children fully prepared for pictures and can either go straight to picture taking or to the classrooms first and then pictures.  No time or opportunity for messed up hair or outfits! 

    After I discovered that this would be taking place last year, I had my greatest idea yet!  Take my girls for their before school haircuts two hours before open house.  The stylist takes care of their hair, gives them the perfect hairstyle for pictures and I don’t have to stress about their hair.  Did it again this year and will keep doing it every year that I can.  Plus the last two years, they have had their best school pictures in since they started school!

  33. Laura says:

    OMG I laughed out loud at this. My son is 11 and the day he had pics he wore a Police (the band with sting) shirt and did not fix his hair. So today was retakes. I looked at the photo they took of him in his police shirt and said screw it it is good enough. I never buy the package it is a total rip off. I am a photographer also BTW so I can take better pics anyway. I think some parents just go hog wild on anything related to their kids. 

  34. Erica says:

    I cannot believe those prices!!!!  For preschool!  We missed my daughter’s picture day this year, or I might have been prepared to see those prices you quoted.  Though I was still in shock from finding out that they actually took preschool pictures.  Seems a little much to me, but meh.

  35. Carl Rood says:

    While my kids’ schools aren’t that high, I hate how they force you to buy a package.  It’s because they know if we just buy and 8×10, we’ll just scan it and print our own copies for family. 

    Add to this, the pictures from sports teams and dance.  My daugher is in several dance classes (one school), each with their own pictures because the recital costumes are different.

    I remember as a kid, they’d send home proofs and my parents would send back what they didn’t want with payment.  Now they make you pay in advance.  The sports teams don’t even offer a plain 8×10.  You have to get it laid out like a magazine cover or have the 5×7 and team picture combined on a single sheet.

  36. […] feasting on germs to acting out in public to sabotaging school photos, your bouts of mischief kept us on our toes , but OF COURSE it was never, ever your fault. When a […]

  37. Our boys’ preschool did the same thing. They just go ahead and print ’em up so you get to preview them and you are all OH HOW PRECIOUS MY BABY IS! But you have to sacrifice Junior’s college fund just to buy them. One year, they took snapshots of the kids and sent them to this place where an artist specially chosen for us (they included a card with her name and “bio”) pencil-sketched it into an adorable likeness that was available for FOUR PAYMENTS OF $49 EACH or something crazy. Yes, of course we bought it. It was our baby!!

  38. Tara Eveland Photography IL says:

    I am a professional photographer, and have been for almost 11 years now. I used to work in a commercial studio like that and the prices there are AWFUL compared to a person running their own studio such as myself. Now, I charge $35 for an 8×10, but let me tell you why it IS wrong to charge that at a commercial studio, versus my studio. At my studio I am still paying off my college degree/loans for my trade, I have an overhead like rent/utilites/insurance on my studio, also I spend an average of 5 hours of my time communicating with my client via emails, phone, in person consultations, and the premier (sales appointment) which is all time on the job and away from my family. Also, I spend 90 minutes in each shoot, I have over 500 props that I’ve bought over the years on average of $45 a piece, many much more, some much less. A background that you like and pick from my studio costs me anywhere from $150-$350. I also have software that I use to enhance, edit, and perfect the images for the clients, photoshop and lightroom (about a 2k investment together and about 5k in actions and presets to give different effects). Not to mention the minor things that add up such as paying my taxes (okay that isnt minor at all lol), paying my professional photographers of america membership dues, the workshops that i am consistently enrolled in at $150 a pop just to make sure I stay on top of ‘trends’, and then you add in camera and gear cleaning and maintaining. once you add all this into the factor and not to mention my TIME and TALENT (I spend an average of 8-10 hours on each session to make lasting and perfect memories), that is how I justify charging $35 for an 8×10. Id like to also add that no one ever actually PAYS that, I have packages that include prints and products that make that price much lower. But, this is just to say that a commercial studio, like I used to work at through college, they dont even EDIT your photos, half the time you dont even know the photographers name, they just shoot them with what little props they are given and 100’s of other kids use the same ones too, then they show you the images, they MIGHT be able to do a black and white conversion for you or a sepia, but they do NOT spend hours on editing software to give you the unique and amazing images that a real professional photographer can give you, therefore, for them to charge $30 for an 8×10 IS outrageous! I suggest to anyone that is thnking of going to those places, DONT. just google local area photographers and then look at their portfolios on their webpages. remember, you get what you pay for though and there are SO MANY people coming around, buying a camera and saying they are a photographer these days you REALY have to do your research and make sure you get a good fit for you and your family. 🙂

    • Laura K. says:

      I stopped reading at 5k in actions for photoshop.. you have GOT to be kidding me.. if you need 5k worth of photoshop/lightroom actions, you’re not doing a good job. I mean that in the nicest way. You shouldn’t need to spend so much to edit a photo.

  39. Sue in Atanta says:

    Bruiser is one handsome little boy….

  40. Jen says:

    Yeah, so I just decided at the start of Kindergarten that I was not going to buy those crap photos. My kids know how much I hate them and my older actually came home this year (3rd grade) saying “Mom, they made me tilt my head that way, I couldn’t take off my glasses, and by the way, I got paint all over my shirt.” This was the DAY OF the photos, which was completely spot on when the proofs arrived. My 1st grader is the most photogenic kid on the planet–and his are also terrible. I feel great with my decision to not buy them. Recently a friend was lamenting the cost and I mentioned just not buying them and she was shocked, “Wow, really? That’s an option?” Yep, and I don’t have any remorse.

  41. Melissa says:

    I’m still messed up from last Springs photos that came home. My husband and I decided that we didn’t love the background and wouldn’t be buying any. I have felt so guilty ever since. I can’t believe someone could throw away the adorable pictures of MY son! I swear I think about it everyday! We only order the bare minimum on school pictures anyway because I take hundreds of pics a day of the kids. At least you know the pre-ordered pictures don’t just get tossed in the trash if you don’t buy them! 🙁 Another parenting subject I need therapy for.

    • suburbanturmoil says:

      I remember feeling that way– but trust me, it gets better! After a few more years, you’re going to have so many photos coming home that there’s no way you’ll order them all. We have 3-4 sets coming home a year now between school and extracurriculars- I try to stick to one school photo per year and individual team photo every few years- After a while, they all start looking sort of alike!

  42. Middle School Triplet Mom says:

    I have no idea why they don’t just offer the photo disk for $25 or less and call it done. All these damn packages are a PITA for all concerned.

  43. Laura K. says:

    But wait.. how did you get all the pics if you only bought one?

  44. Angela Price says:

    I can’t even even tell you how many school photos and sports photos we have for our kids that are tucked into photo boxes and not displayed anywhere. The photos we have displayed are the ones we’ve taken or friends and relatives have sent us. I always buy the cheapest package. This year I actually forgot to give my 13 y.o. the check and form to take to school. For about 2 seconds I felt like a horrible mom, and then I realized that I would rather spend the $40 on a video game for him than to get mediocre photos that will just go into the photo box under my bed.

  45. Diana Hill Lovell says:

    Haha! Our school used to use LifeTouch’s crappy services, but have since switched to private, local photographers. Our school is a part of our church, so we have several members who do photography as a side business and when on moved away, there were enough people to choose from. They used the one who was best equipped and could do it without raising the package prices. The pictures are good, not horribly overpriced, but still more than me having my photographer cousin do them in her aunt’s field and giving me the whole disc of individual AND group shots for $100…

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