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Children / Humor / School

Picture Day Sticker Shock

Back when I was in Elementary School, Picture Day came once a year. It was the one day a year when it really mattered that your hair was combed, and your clothes were clean and straight, and that you didn’t fall down on the playground at recess.

(Here is my 1979-80 Kindergarten Photo, both the class group photo and the single shot of little JoAnn as a Kindergartner.)

Unlike my own daughter, I hated wearing dresses to school, but I had to on Picture Day. My mom made me do it. If I was good, sat still, and smiled like a good little girl, I got to keep the little fine-tooth comb with the Photography Studio’s name imprinted on it.

Something tells me everyone got to keep the little comb, but it did the trick. The Picture Torture Session was over in a flash (pun totally intended), and then we had to wait an eternity to see if our goofy grins had been captured on film.

Even after all these years, that little black comb with the gold writing is the thing I remember most about Picture Day. It almost made wearing that silly dress worth it.

So, when Claire started at a local preschool that was part of our county school district, I wasn’t too shocked that they do School Photos. I was shocked by the price of the packages, but I just chalked it up to inflation. Plus, I was able to justify the cost in my head, because Picture Day happens only once a year…right?


A couple weeks ago, another notice came home from Claire’s Preschool. It was going to be Picture Day…again. Again? They do this twice a year?? Apparently, they do.

In the past, this particular School Photo Company (our school uses Lifetouch Photography, and I have a feeling they service a lot of schools in this area…) would allow you to see the photos before making a purchase decision. Well, so many parents were keeping the photos and not paying that they’ve changed their policies for this school. Now, just like in the fall, we have to decide which package we want, pre-pay and then HOPE the photos turn out.

We were really lucky in the fall, and they turned out great. I have my fingers crossed for this round.

Still, I can’t get over how much they cost.

Yes, we take more digital photos of Claire than a typical Paparazzi on any given day in Beverly Hills, but “real” photos to share with friends and family are fun, too. Even before “Picture Day,” I used to take Claire to a local photo place that would offer entire packages of photos for under $10, if you could stick to one pose. I would do that around her birthday and her half-birthday. The grandparents were thrilled, and that worked for us and our budget. Gone are those days…

At least for Picture Day Revisited, I’ll get a whole class photo out of the deal. Still, I’m brought back to the price. How can they charge almost $15 for ONE PHOTO!? Of course, that’s just the base price. You can also get individual poses for “just a little bit more.”

The thought of paying that much for one photo makes me sick to my stomach. So, I try to find the most economical deal, and I pay. To be honest, paying that much for photos, period, seems ridiculous to me. The markup on these photos has to be incredible. (Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work?  Oh well, even Highway Robbers have to eat.)

But, they know I’m going to pay…and their plan of attack is flawless.

In the days prior to Picture Day, the kids get stickers to wear on their shirts as a reminder to bring their ransom money photo order payment slips to school. A sticker is to Claire as a fine-tooth comb was to her momma.

Then, on Picture Day Part Deux all the little girls were showing each other their little photo slips and their pretty dresses. I can’t leave Claire out of that experience. The thought of Claire being left out when everyone else participates in Picture Day makes me sick to my stomach. So, I pay.

See? They knew I’d find a way to pay…and they gladly take my money. I wonder what little tune they hum as they skip to the bank.

So, what about you? Do you remember Picture Day? How many “Picture Days” do your kids’ schools have, and do they participate in both? Am I the only one who is suffering from Picture Day Sticker Shock?

Author: JoAnn

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  1. Our schools use the same company. They only did one photo for us to buy and then did a school ID in the spring for the next years ID card. Until this year. They actually sent his second photos to us to decide if we want to buy or not. I let him wear an ordinary shirt because I thought it was just ID pictures. The pictures turned out good but with the ordinary shirt, I don’t really need them. My son wants the one sheet they made into bookmarks key tags. Just that alone is $13.00. But how do I tell him no? It frustrates me that they would do photos twice. Surely they make money just from the one time with the prices they charge.

  2. I find two picture days per year to be overkill and a not-subtle attempt at lining pockets. Kids change quickly, but not quickly enough to warrant 2 mug-shot style photos only months apart.

    Back in the day, before the advent of truly inexpensive home photography, school portraits had their place. It was probably often the only way families got nice photos of their kiddos. But those days are gone and I don’t see photo companies evolving with the times by lowering their prices.

    I buy the cheapest package in the fall (out of sheer guilt), but in the spring I only buy the class photos. I have 5 kids in school and I will not pay $200 for photos I can recreate in my garage with a bedsheet backdrop.

    Me-ow! Can you tell this is a sore subject with me?

  3. Laura, thanks for the comment! They weren’t very clear about what was going on this time, either…and since I was new to the whole thing I had to ask if they were really getting a class photo or not! Those things are definitely not cheap!

  4. Gretchen, I can only imagine how the cost just gets exponentially greater with each kid! Yikes! I think you’re absolutely right…they did serve a purpose back in the day. I think it’s a different day now, though…right? *sigh*

  5. We do two a year – the first time I sometimes buy the pictures – luckily we have a small extended family so except for my kids whining that they want lots of wallet sizes, I don’t buy very many.

    The second picture day, all I buy is the big group class picture. Which I love because I frame them and hang them in the kids rooms so they can remember each year. I guess when it gets to be too much, we’ll put them in a photo album.

  6. Most schools have gone to two a year including ours. Plus the prices are getting to where they compare to that of a studio photographer.

  7. I think it’s shameful–yes, that’s right–shameful that LifeTouch price-gouges people so much and that they have a contract with most of the schools in the area. Prices should NOT be comparable to studios. They should be affordable to everyone.

    Pre-printing all the prints and then grossly overcharging is the way they make up their profits. It’s ridiculous they don’t just do proofs and have people order off them. It’s frustrating to see the amount of waste involved in that they just discard of the thousands of pictures that people don’t buy. LifeTouch and the schools need to reevaluate the way they do business.

  8. Well, guess what ladies!? I got the photos back today, and they are NOT good! Boo! 🙁 This time, it looks as though they took her photo right after recess and didn’t even bother to comb her hair! (In the fall, she was properly coiffed, and her clothes were straight, and I was impressed!)

    So, I complained. I’m turning in the individual photos and only keeping the class one. They are sending me a shipping label, and after they receive my photos back, they’ll credit me.

    If I would have been able to see these BEFORE paying, I wouldn’t have to go to all this trouble (and neither would they!!). Ugh!

    I’m with you, Amber…why can’t they send proofs!?

  9. Howdy,

    I am a local photographer. When I do portraits like this for schools I take multiple images of each child and post them on a private web gallery for the parents to order off of. Not only do you get to see them BEFORE you order, but you have choices! You can also forward the link to friends and family, so THEY can buy their own prints.


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