SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – One of the big questions that people in the photographic field hear, comes from people asking why they should bother doing a student portrait session, when they get school photos done each year anyway. On this one I can speak from personal experience as a dad, more so than just my years as a photographer. Somewhere upstairs in my dresser, I have a plastic baggie, and in there is a stack of school pictures for each of my three kids, that dates back 18 years. The process of doing them really hasn’t changed much since I was in grade school 40 years ago. The kids let you know that “Tuesday is class picture day,” they wear a nice shirt, someone comes into the gym and snaps a few pictures on a blue background, and then you get an envelope with the photo of your class, and your individual portrait. When they arrive, you smile at how cute your child it, and then you cut the 5 x 7′s and wallet sized pictures out and send them off to your family, where they hopefully will find a place on grandmas refrigerator door. As I said, not much has changed. For all I know, 60 years ago my parents did the same with their grandparents.
With all of the innovation that we have seen over the decades, the technology has gotten so much better, yet the process itself is still hampered by the simple fact that (a) when you can only spend 45 seconds with each child and need to get 2 shots in, it isn’t exactly a unique and personal experience, and (b) the majority of the people that work for the large “school picture houses” are not photographers. In fact, a quick search on one of the job boards had over tons of jobs for such folks, all with “no experience required.”
The funny thing is that the one part that has changed over the years is that the cost of getting the typical school pictures done has grown exponentially. Suddenly you get the envelope home, and as you’re looking through the “packages” that they offer, you’re seeing prices that are close to $100, and at those kind of prices, you’re practically paying for a professional shoot anyway, which would actually give you something you would treasure for decades to come, instead of just tossing them in a drawer.
Eventually, I got to the point where I finally stopped buying the school pictures, and sent back my empty envelope. After all, I thought, this photo they were going to send me doesn’t really seem like it reflects my kids unique personality, and if I know it’s just going to wind up in the drawer anyway, I would rather save the money an do something else with it.
Instead, the two questions I posed to myself, and would ask people reading this site, is first how you want to remember these special moments in your child’s life, and secondly, are you getting your moneys worth for what you buy. This week, I had the chance to invite one of my neighbors over to do some pictures while I tested out my new lighting system, and we had such a great time. I don’t think we spent more than 20 minutes for the whole session, but what came out of it was a set of photos that I know they will really enjoy.
Here are some of the photos from that session, which they gave me permission to post. Call me crazy, but I don’t think these are going to wind up in a plastic baggie in the dresser. I think they’ll actually get hung on a wall, and treasured as the years go by.
Here is another one from last week, with one of my favorite photo subjects, again posted with mom and dads permission of course. Can you see this as something that might be treasured in the years to come? I know I can.
The ironic thing is that the cost of doing portraits with this level of quality is so affordable now, that it’s almost the same price as the typical “photo package” I was getting back from school anyway. It becomes even better when you combine your kids together into one session. Some of the difference in quality can probably be attributed to using great equipment, and other to the fact that I’m actually a trained photographer. The biggest element though, is just being able to take the time to get to know the subject a little bit, in more than 45 seconds, and try to bring out their individual personality. That’s where you come upon the difference between equipment, and being an actual artist.
In the end, I suppose the old adage has always been that you get what you pay for, but in this case, I think you actually get far more for more your money by doing it right the first time. Check out some of the photos on our site, and you be the judge for yourself.