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DPChallenge Forums >> Rant >> school photos - why do all the places suck?
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06/07/2008 10:34:39 PM · #1
Oh and I should also add, that while you are trying to do all this, you are putting up with the heckling from the class mates, crooked collars, tangled hair, dirty faces skew neckties, silly expressions because they think they are being funny all with very little help from the teacher in charge.

Edit to add: also the runny noses and crying kids with red eyes.

Message edited by author 2008-06-07 22:37:22.
06/07/2008 10:31:59 PM · #2
This post brought back many memories. Tabatha you have my sympathies, I know how hard this kind of photography is to pull off and you will never keep everyone happy. I started my photographic career shooting play school portraits many years ago in South Africa. I offered a variety of packages from the very cheap to the more expensive. I used to find that the middle of the road packages were the best sellers, but every so often there was a parent who just could not afford anything other than the 6x4 and 4 wallets (I am talking during the days where scanners and digital were still way in the future). I was even known to donate a package or two to a child who's parents could not afford one at all. I used to print all the pictures as a 4-up (4 wallets on a 6x4), cut out one and attach it to the order form so they could take it or leave it. If they ordered the package they got the other three wallets as part of the package.

Years later while living in southeast London (about 6 miles from tower bridge) I contracted to a group of school photographers who hired people all over the country to do photos from tiny tots to teenagers. One experience that comes vividly to mind is a school with 1200 senior school students. We were meant to be 3 photographers but only two of us made it. They were using the school hall for assembly and when that finished, we had 2 and a half hours to set up and shoot 600 portraits each and have our stuff packaged away and out because they had another function starting then!!!! I am also proud to say that I shot the portraits the one year for the Westminster Abbey Boy's Chior in London and the Southampton University Graduation Pictures the same year.

This kind of work is hard and gruelling and the photographers that hang in there deserve every penny that they get paid if not more. I got all the central London assignments because I was the only photographer in the area. It used to take me 2 and a half hours to do the 15 or 20 miles to the school in the morning because of traffic, then have to find legal parking, shoot the school and battle my way back out. Even though central London, around the Hyde Park area, is so built up it was amazing what I used to find when I went into those brownstone houses, 5 or 6 level apartments that line the streets. Sometimes I would find 400 or 500 children there waiting eagerly to have their pictures shot. These were also some of the most polite well behaved children I have ever had the opportunity to photograph.

So I suppose what I am trying to say is when you look at that order form (I agree there should be at the very least a few days leeway to order from the proofs) next time think of the photographer who has got up at 5am, packed all his/her equipment, driven to the venue, maybe closeby maybe 2 and a half hours away, set up his/her equipment in a specific way to ensure the same lighting results in each shot, joked and cajoled, begged, tried every trick in the book and played the clown or pacified a teenager who has braces and wants to scowl not smile, mark each canister of film in sequence with frames telling the lab which class or school is which for packaging purposes had no lunch break because the school just wants them out as quickly as possible and then having to pack everything up, cart it out to their vehicle and make their weary way home. This was all when we still shot negatives. I used to get paid 60 pounds a school 8 years ago for all of that work and that is only the start, there is still the labwork to be done after that. My success rate was 99% on smiles and eyes open which was pretty good, if I was unsure I would shoot a second frame otherwise it was just one for each child.

Needless to say there will always be at least one unhappy parent and it is usually the one with the worst behaved child who will tell you that you are not a photographer's ass because you couldnt get a good picture of their little darling (there is only so much you can do) and yes I have had a few write me letters to tell me to change my job because I couldnt photograph kids, but I have tens of thousands who were happy with the "mug shot" because it was well exposed and showed their child's character, in focus and they appreciated that the school had a requirement for all the photos to be in the same or similar format for their records. I couldnt even imagine doing several different poses for each child under those conditions, you would be there for a week.

JMHO and 2 cents worth and I commend Tabatha for coming forward, I feel your pain LOL. If you have any schools contracted in Northeast Central Indiana and need a photographer, I may be persuaded to shoot a few more as it has been a while since I last did one LOL and the nightmares have faded a bit, e-mail me..
06/07/2008 06:47:05 PM · #3
Yeah I still say buyer beware is an important factor... Good or bad remarks as long as they are true should not be censored, but who am I to say since I beleive in free speech.
06/07/2008 03:07:59 PM · #4
As long as everything he said about it is true, I don't see why, especially when the company responded.
This is exactly the kind of thing I search for; customer experience will tell you far more than slick advertising.
There are dozens of threads in DPC on the subject.
06/07/2008 02:38:15 PM · #5
I do think the company's name should be taken off these posts to protect them from other people finding this via google...I strongly believe if you have issues with a company you should contact them directly. As a small business owner I can only hope that's what my clients would do :-)
06/07/2008 12:04:02 AM · #6
Tabatha,
thanks for your very complete reply. I do tend to agree with most of what you say - your images are very good. I don't expect 69 portraits for $12.99 (the walmart mentality). But then I can make a $12 buying decision rather quickly. Asking me to spend $40 or more and choose from among 9 poses - and giving me no time to do it is asking a bit much IMO. Then telling me I have less than a day to decide or pay a penalty (percentage wise it's a bit steep!) comes across as a strong arm high pressure sales tactic.

Yes your images are good, but at the time you're showing me $40+ packages my older son is bringing home the typical school photo package of $15 for 12 prints or some similar deal. Yeah, sight unseen but then there's no proof sheet to go into a landfill either.

I think there should be a happy medium someplace. Better pics than most school photogs offer but at a price more affordable than what you're company is offering. You may not be driving a BMW but you're selling the photographic equivalent, and the other guy is selling the used chevy version. Isn't there a Buick/Mercury/VW version in there somewhere?
06/06/2008 11:48:50 PM · #7
Ever wonder why they are called mug shots?
06/06/2008 12:36:55 PM · #8
A response from Creative Images in Galena, Maryland...Your post just showed up in a search one of the employees ran here. I wanted to offer a bit of insight into some of the concerns that you expressed and figured as a pro photographer, you would understand many of them. It is rather long-winded as I am passionate about what we do here. My efforts are merely to share our approach so I hope that is what comes across...

We are actually a fairly large company, serving a number of states. However, our photographers live closer to the areas where they photograph with a very few that travel further distances. All of the customer service and processing is run out of Galena. I am the General Manager. We are a business full of people that got tired of the same old school portraits and being forced to buy sub-par pictures that were SPECULATION or PRE-PAY. We wanted to give more of a choice to parents and we wanted to bring a studio flair to Picture Day in child cares. We offer multiple poses and atleast 2 backgrounds for most of our programs, some specialty programs offer 9 good images in a custom composite! Our photographers get on the floor and interact playfully with the children to encourage the gorgeous expressions that you will see consistently through our work. Our program requires no prepayment and there is no obligation to purchase.

We do try to balance the schedule of the school and the focus on trying to get that great image that really captures the personality of each child. We are in no way point and shoot photographers. As far as our pricing structure, we offer discounts on additional packages. If parents have siblings in the school, which a great percentage of our customers do, they are able to take those discounts on the siblings portraits as well. That primary package pays the bills. As far as CD\'s go, yes we do charge a lot. But to me the prices are a value! We photographers are artists that create something unique and wonderful. When I transfer ownership rights over to you as a customer, I am trading in my earning potential to you and offering you an ability to use that image for any product and in any way for a lifetime. As I am sure, being in this industry, everyone understands, customers are using our images in much better ways than on paper. Portraits are still being purchased, but the image is what we sell, not the paper. So you are not buying a cd, you are buying a memory. Our one pose cd, it is just that and is priced appropriately. But the images of one child can be anywhere from 3-10 images. Our multi-child cd can be upwards of 15+ images that you now have transfer of ownership rights on. What would a good studio photographer get for that number of shots? ( remember, we have no sitting fees ) We take siblings alone and together so those images are well worth it in my opinion. Another consideration is that we do pay our photographers above the national standard for a preschool photographer because we require more of them. We want only the best SHOOTERS working with your child! We also put them through a rigorous 3-4 week training schedule, perform security screenings on them, and review test shots from every school weekly. Another factor in our pricing structure is that many members of our competition have encouraged schools to use pictures as a fundraiser. We see the merits in the choice for your school, less bake sales for mom, so we allow them to choose. Some schools select that fundraiser program so they enjoy a % of sales on our work.

As far as the deadlines go, I am unsure of the specifics at your particular school, but as we all know in this industry, people are very used to a quick turn around, so we do mark them for a quick turn over. Parents are so anxious to get their portraits back and with offering the proof structure we are competing against other companies that return portraits back quicker because they pick for you. We also know that parents will take longer than you give them no matter what the deadline, so we set them quick and deal with extension requests when we get them. Also, if your school does need time we work it out with the Director and take that into account the next time we schedule. We actually put that late fee on there to discourage late orders. So much easier and quicker to handle the school at one time and our clients get them so much quicker too! You\'ve got to remember, your schools want this to be done too! They do this service for you. It is a lot of time and energy on their part. No matter how great the company, Picture Day is a disruption to young childrens\' schedules and that always creates a more challenging day for your teaching staff. So we try to get \'er done!

We feel like our program is better because of the extensive choices we offer. In addition, we do not print up unwanted portraits that end up in a landfill somewhere! By the way, portraits are not able to be recylced so we feel like our program makes environmental sense too. Hopefully, you will see our new flyer the next time we visit which has cut our paper consumption by like 40%.

Our model basically tries to take close to studio portraits, offer products that are generally offered in studios like canvas gallery wraps and such, but with a mass production scale. Trust me, it is a challenge and a costly one, but our retention is very high so hopefully we are managing to make the majority of our clients happy. We care about each one, so I offer you the opportunity to contact me directly. We are the type of company that turns on a dime when we need to and I welcome expanding my horizons. As an aside, I am also a mom of three, so I totally understand the process from both angles. I am bias though, because I definately think we are the best out there!

By the way, as I said I am the General Manager of the company. I drive a 7 year old Ford Windstar, not a BMW. We try to keep our prices honest and competitive. Nobody here is rolling in the dough, trust me...just working way too hard, but loving every beautiful smiling face that comes across my desk!
Warm Regards, Tabatha Wilbert, tabatha@portraitday.com, 800-207-8674 ext 203
10/28/2007 08:07:12 PM · #9
Three or four years ago the photographer who does the school photos for the middle school chopped off everyones forehead. And they(lifetouch) actually sent the photos home to the parents without offering a reschedule. Talk about a near riot at the school...

Needless to say all of the parents complained to the school and they got their reschedule just in time for christmas break and didn't have the photos back until time for spring photos.

This was the first year they did not send proofs home for the parents to look at before purchasing what they wanted. They said it would save time.

Before this the parents could purchase proof prints for $5 or they would get them free with a package purchase so the company was not losing money.
10/25/2007 06:22:47 PM · #10
Originally posted by LoudDog:


They should just charge $2,000-$4,000 per sitting plus $500 per image and just be done with it...


Can't help but to chuckle :-D
10/25/2007 05:42:26 PM · #11
I don't have a problem with the schedule dance or the pricing......it's once a year and all the kids get 'em done......it's a ritual.

What I was expecting to find in this thread was why does the PHOTOGRAPHY suck?

When I see the yearbook, I just cringe!!!!

Some of these kids don't even look like the pictures that this outfit takes!

They're AWFUL!!!!!!

And that's just wrong on so many levels.
10/25/2007 04:58:57 PM · #12
Originally posted by Prof_Fate:

I just don't like the stupid 'fees' so many places like to add on - car repair places with their 'shop supplies 3%' and one photographer charges a 'lab fee' of $3/order (and he owns the lab!), UPS 'fuel cost recovery surcharge' or 'rural delivery surcharge', etc. If everyone has to buy a package then charge $1 more for them.


They should just charge $2,000-$4,000 per sitting plus $500 per image and just be done with it...
10/25/2007 04:35:16 PM · #13
Oh and about the year books - Ive had one every year since 4th grade I think?
10/25/2007 04:34:33 PM · #14
On league picture day, we rarely see the older kids, so thats pretty dead on. I mean the teams just don't even show up haha. Especialyl since most of them are at that awkward age where they are pimply and not quite done the whole puberty deal yet.
10/25/2007 04:15:14 PM · #15
the creative image people did 5 poses, and 3 'specialties' -basic border deals and a B&W. the sell christmas cards and CDs, which is kinda rare for a school photo deal. nice work - 2 different BGs and a couple of poses. The price is not cheap nor market, but I might pay it - UNTIL they give me 24 hours and then say pay extra and you won't see your pics till christmas (it's be nice to have them for thanksgiving to give to the family). It's the strongarm tactics I don't like.

I tried for something more dimensional, less flat than most. The subjects aren't faced as square to the camera either - almost everyone wanted to sit square to the camera. It's not much, but the boundaries you have to work within are limited.

This preschool is probably getting something. I really don't have a problem paying a commission of some sort if the school (or team) is distributing the sales lit, advertsiing, bringing me the clients and then delivering the product.

It's a proven fact that as the kids age the parents buy fewer photos, and spend less each time. A Wheaties Box is cool the first time in t-ball, but do they get one every year for 7 years and for each of 2 or 3 sports? No, of course not. My son's gradeschool does a YEARBOOK! I don't remember that when I was in grade school - it was a high school thing. Not sure who does the layout, but the printer is some online place ( very inexpensive). It's like a really fat magazine style 'yearbook' and all color, and cheap to buy, so I bet every parent bought one. My son pulls it out to show us who's who and who he knows and stuff like that - it gets a LOT more use than his school pictures - want some? I have extra of those. so do his friends. LOL
10/25/2007 02:38:06 PM · #16
Prof - I wish the places around here (the schools/leagues) were less worried about making their fundraising goal, it would be great! But what it seems is that they want the same amount of money each time, but they want the package prices lower. Crazy people.

What you have for your headshots is the standard thing for school photography. Sit caddy corner, chin up, smile, click, next!

I mean im sure everyone would love to sit and be able to do different poses, take 20 pictures of each kid, etc etc, but imagine the logistical nightmare of that if oyu are doing a larger school and can't afford to schedule weeks at one place. Definitely a challenge, as well as a numbers game.

Do you book one job an spend a week there doing the multiple poses and all that jazz, and hope something comes out that the parents will like, or do you book as much as you can, do the wam bam thank ya mam, standard school shots, and expect to have to do some retakes and maybe even give a few refunds, but shoot 3 jobs that week?

Id be very surprised if the school wasn't getting something out of it - if not straight cash to them, maybe the year books, or the school id's for free. Thats prettttty standard.
10/25/2007 12:42:35 PM · #17
Originally posted by fotomann_forever:

Damn, I got beat to all the good punches. :-/


Ha ha.
I say charge market value - around here that's 10-12/unit, NOT 24/unit, and often less for school photos.


10/25/2007 12:37:35 PM · #18
Originally posted by ajdelaware:


not to mention the fact that 50%+ of sales, or a flat rate fee, goes to teh school itself.


Not around here- as far as I know. I've asked them that know - hell, one photo studio was going to charge the school to take the head shots! (due to low sales, well, profits). And the sports leagues want low (and lower) prices instead of, umm, commissions. The 800 pound gorilla of school photos, lifetouch, is known for cutthroat competition (makes walmart look like your nice old grandma) and they're barely in the region at all. (for now anyway). But as hard as it is for them to break in to the area, it's equally hard for any newcomer.

I shot the yearbook photos for a local college this pat september. Colleges are different, but I got paid by the college, and have sold some of the kids photos. I charged $11.50/unit BUT that was for any unit - no packages. If they bought the day of the photos it was 12 for the first unit of any kind, $9 for second and $7 for each add'l. 90% of the sales have been after the fact - convenience factor I suppose.
Had I given them 24 hours, charged twice as much and imposed a late fee do you think i'd have sold more? LOL

"my" school photos. Boring? Who can say - for a year book the BG has to be the same, neutral-ish, all the heads lined up, etc. Not much room for creativity. I didn't want totally flat lighting, but if you venture too far from the norm in this regard you get complaints about that too.
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10/25/2007 12:26:04 PM · #19
Damn, I got beat to all the good punches. :-/
10/25/2007 12:22:16 PM · #20
The (local) photog that does the sports teams is a lot cheaper - you can buy package or individual 5x7 team photo ($7) and I think the quality is fine, but many other parents really don't like it, and no one likes his 'attitude' on picture day.

The (local studio) that has the grade school and HS contract is like most - send in a check on picture day and you get what you get. About $8/unit (8x10, 2 5x7, 8 wallets, etc). A bit on the cheap side IMO as compared to what the market will bear. Last year they didn't bother to clean the dust off their sensor...4 big dark dust spot, 3 on the face (4th on the BG), and few more lighter ones. Bad job. I suppose after retouching dust on 300+ photos they'll not make that mistake again LOL.

So the local market for school and team pics is $7-8/unit. For events I charge 12-14/unit and no one seems to mind.

This maryland outfit wants $24/ unit for one unit, plus that pesky $1 and well, since you're hard pressed to meet their deadline add $13 more!
I suppose their theory is they want a high dollar figure per sale, even if only 50% buy. I've talked with the local folks on the sports leages and one school - they want low prices so every parent can afford to buy photos of their kids.

The preschool is 'private' I suppose, so is that the deal?

What pisses me off more than the prices is the 'deadline' of 24 hours or a "late" fee of $13. The $1 'handling' fee is annoying too.

I just don't like the stupid 'fees' so many places like to add on - car repair places with their 'shop supplies 3%' and one photographer charges a 'lab fee' of $3/order (and he owns the lab!), UPS 'fuel cost recovery surcharge' or 'rural delivery surcharge', etc. If everyone has to buy a package then charge $1 more for them.
10/25/2007 12:15:20 PM · #21
My son is homeschooled, so I did his school picture myself.

Of course, I've already done three of them. Each time I get one I like better, I say "this is IT."

10/25/2007 12:12:13 PM · #22
Chris - you HAVE to see the humor in everyone's responses, right?

Actually, I agree. I personally think most of my stuff is so-so. Yet, any time one of our 3 daughters bring home photos of ANY thing from school, they say "Dad, I don't want these pictures - your work is better than this junk!" Even so, I STILL encourage them to purchase pics from dances, special events, etc. if I'm not there.

Also, Glenda has informed me that I WILL begin doing annual 'marker' shots to coincide with their school photos. That way, even though we don't buy the school's 'junk', we still have pics from each school year.


10/25/2007 11:26:15 AM · #23
Originally posted by idnic:

Why don't you just photograph your child yourself? I haven't paid for a school photo for YEARS!

Beat me to it! :)
10/25/2007 11:25:31 AM · #24
Originally posted by idnic:

Why don't you just photograph your child yourself? I haven't paid for a school photo for YEARS!


Which is partly the reason why the cost is getting higher.

More parents with digital cameras mean less parents buying pictures, which means companies have to raise costs to cover overhead, which means they have to increase the price.

not to mention the fact that 50%+ of sales, or a flat rate fee, goes to teh school itself.
10/25/2007 11:10:32 AM · #25
Why don't you just photograph your child yourself? I haven't paid for a school photo for YEARS!
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