The High Cost of Picture Day

My son had a basketball game yesterday. We had to arrive early because it was picture day, the most dreaded day of all youth sports seasons. Chaos reigned, as always, with teams delaying the photographers so that they could locate players who had wandered away. As a result, all of the games started late and everyone was ready to go home before half-time.

We hate picture day because it is yet another fund raiser that forces parents to either purchase incredibly overpriced pictures or to tell their children that even though all of the other kids are buying pictures, they cannot. It is a no-win situation. Pay the prices of price-gauging photographers or let down your child. Neither is palatable.

Sadly, it seems that every youth organization, from schools to sports and from churches to scouts, has jumped on the “picture day” band wagon. When I was a kid, we had picture day once per year at our school. It provided a nice chronological retrospective of my development. This year, my son will have no fewer than nine picture days — two at school, three in his various basketball leagues, three in his baseball league and one in his flag football league. If we were to purchase pictures at each event, we would easily spend a minimum of $200 for pictures that we could just as easily take (and do take) with our digital cameras.

I can understand that schools and youth organizations need to raise money. I find fault, however, in organizations that try to use the desires of children to leverage those money raising efforts. No parent should be forced to spend money that they do not need to spend, just so that their child does not feel left out of a group. That is just wrong.

With my older son, we often did buy every picture that we were asked to purchase. Perhaps we will look at them in years to come, but my son has now thrown away all of the copies that we gave to him. Also, since the photos are not digital, they are not nearly as versatile as the photos that we take on our own and store on our computers.

With my younger son, we took a different approach. We taught him early on that it was excessive to spend so much money on photos that we could take on our own, and we taught him that if we did not spend money on pictures, we would have money to spend on other things that he might actually prefer. He liked that. Accordingly, we always limit ourselves to buying his school year book which includes many of his team pictures ($25) and a set of baseball cards featuring his image for each baseball season ($12 each, but something that my wife and I really like). We also let our son know that any time he wants to pose for a picture before a game or a practice, we will happily take his photo. Of course, that never happens.

Have you had to deal with an increase in the number of times that schools and teams ask you to pay for expensive photos? Do you pay for the photos or do you pass at each opportunity? How does your child react if you skip the photo sessions? Does he or she feel left out? Do boys and girls handle photo day differently?

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14 Responses to The High Cost of Picture Day

  1. Annie Jones says:

    Our school photos are expensive and of poor quality. I didn’t want to buy any, but DH talked me into buying the smallest package that was offered. We then watched for specials at Olan Mills. We think they have quality portraits at very affordable prices (if you have the willpower to stick with just the package deal). We have done this for two years and plan to continue.

    Our granddaughter is in kindergarten, so fortunately we have been hit up for all the activity photos you mention. If/when that happens, we won’t be buying.

  2. Monkey Mama says:

    My child just started Kinder. I read these kinds of posts and cringe when people say they “have to” buy all these pictures.

    We paid $3 for my son’s K pictures. I felt lucky we had the option, after seeing so many posts on the subject about no cheap options. But if it gets to be too much I don’t think we’d bother buying them.

    I think it’s extra aggravating how expensive pictures are getting when DIY is a perfectly good alternative. Why we see the point even less!

  3. It gets even more complicated for the high schoolers. Here’s a post I wrote on “How to limit the budget on senior year pictures.”

  4. disneysteve says:

    We buy one photo per year, the school one, and we buy the cheapest package they offer which is under $20. Then we just make copies as needed. We really don’t need that many. One for us, one for each grandmother and a couple of other relatives.

    When she performs in a show, we usually buy photos from that because we can’t take our own and would like a remembrance of that.

    I see no reason to buy more than that. If your kid is in multiple activities that all do picture days, just skip the ones you don’t want.

  5. Ann says:

    With the high cost of school activities and now photos, I have to admit that I’m REALLY glad that I decided early in my marriage that I was already raising an adult (’cause his mother obviously hadn’t) and didn’t need a child to complicate the issue!

    I feel very sorry for parents these days. Kids definitely have their positive points, but they’re expensive!

  6. Another advantage of homeschooling. Our yearbook only cost $12 from the homeschool coop. At that price I can buy one for each child and for us (parents). Sports teams around here don’t do all the photos as you described. Usually parents all bring their cameras and take their own.

  7. L says:

    I work in a daycare and we have local companies come in for picture days. It’s a complete ripoff. Employees get 50% off, and even at that, my co-workers pay between $30-50 for pictures anyone can do with a digital camera and a sheet for a backdrop!

  8. savannahzmomma1 says:

    I agree with this post. My little daughter had a ballet/tap/tumbling picture day this year, and I thought, “For almost a hundred bucks I’ll get, what?” I skipped bringing her to the picture day, skipped buying the pictures. She complained a bit, but it is all forgotten. I spend time with her making ornaments, cookies, reading, taking pictures of my own… the pictures mean next to nothing. Her world was hardly shattered and it was 79 bucks I’m glad we kept.

    The elementary school has school pics with an ugly background, and we had to pay for the pics before they were even taken, so I said, “No thanks!” Why would I buy a picture that might turn out terrible? With no proofs or chance to review them? The daycare she attends at the beginning of the day has a firm that makes nicer pictures, and you can buy, or not, after you look at them. Yep, I’m not going to permit myself to be guilted into participating in the insanity anymore.

  9. Anne says:

    Our church has actually gone the opposite route for confirmation pictures. We don’t use a professional photographer. For a while, we had a skilled parent come in and take the photos and then print them up at Walmart at cost for families who wanted to purchase them. Now, we still have a church member there as photographer (so that the church has some to keep), but we just load them all onto a CD and give that out to the families. They can print whichever ones they want however they want.

  10. topwaystosave says:

    I remember how expensive senior pictures were back in high school. That was almost 15 years ago so I can’t even imagine what they are now.

    I know for our little girl I had a 50% off coupon at JC Penney and I still paid over $100. Yes they made great xmas gifts for family and it was nice having a “professional”, but I think it was a one and done deal.

  11. Ann says:

    Being older, I find that the pictures I enjoy best are the ones that were taken at famiy or friend gatherings. The school ones gather dust, but the ones of swimming at the lake with my dad or of me and my friends are the ones that bring back the most precious memories.

    Now my brother, on the other hand, still has professional pictures taken of his (grown) family for Christmas cards, etc. Considering the hours he works, maybe it’s how he keeps track of what his kids looked like at various ages! LOL

  12. Persephone says:

    I think candid photos create the best pictorial memories. Portraits seem outdated, forced and often result in unflattering pictures being displayed for years to come.

  13. Irritated says:

    I know many of these comments are fairly outdated by now, but in case someone doing a web search finds this page, like I did, I wanted to put in my 2 cents worth.

    Sometimes it bothers me how people can offer “advice” on something they are truly ignorant about. I continually hear folks talk about how “overpriced” it is to buy professional pictures they could “easily take themselves”.

    As with other industries, the photography industry is very highly competitive. So, many photographers must charge a higher rate than others just to stay afloat. People think a photographer is a guy sitting at home who just snaps a few pictures, makes up some prints, marks them up really high, and sells them. This is a complete fallacy.

    First of all, a photographer has a large number of expenses to cover, just like any other business. Many have studios which they lease. Then there’s the high cost of equipment to purchase and maintain. This may include cameras, lenses, backdrops, stands, lights, computers, software, electricity, heat, water, fuel, etc…etc… This stuff is not cheap in the slightest.

    A photographer doesn’t just point and shoot a camera. They have to learn how light works and how to modify light to make their subject look the way they wish, to achieve a flattering image. You don’t see a photographer shoot his camera with the little popup flash on the top. They usually use some sort of external flash higher than the camera or on another stand all together. There is a reason for this – not just cause it looks cooler to have this big flash. This takes experience, which the photographer should be compensated for. There is not a photographer out there that does not modify pictures afterwards to make them look great. This involves learning complicated and expensive software packages, and learning how to do photo editing, which is a skill unto itself. Many photographers go to school to learn a lot of this and have an education to pay for, just like many other professionals.

    If you are a person who thinks they can take pictures that are “just as good” then my advice would be to just shut up and do it then. However, I will bet that if we put you and a professional photographer in a room with a subject and are told to come up with one nice looking portrait, that the photographer’s picture would be the one that looks the nicest 99.9% of the time. Heck, even if you were both told to make 5 nice looking portraits, I bet all the photographer’s would look better.

    If you think a particular photographer’s pictures aren’t all that great, then chances are you just picked the wrong photographer. Perhaps they are not as experienced as you’d want, or they are used to shooting a different style or “flavor” of photography than what you are looking for. If these are the case….don’t use them. Go to someone else.

    Professional photography is an art, of which there are many different styles, and a service that requires skill and experience. Each photographer’s expenses and cost of living are different and they need to charge accordingly for their products and service so they can make a small profit so they can feed their families.

    If you are currently looking for a photographer and you are not sure who to choose, here’s a small word of advice….if the photographer you are talking to says they will charge you one fee and give you all kinds of pictures on a DVD that you can print anywhere, then chances are they are an amateur and may not be that skilled, therefore the pictures may not look as nice. I’m sorry, but the prints you get from a WalMart or Walgreens simply do not look nearly as nice as what you get from a professional service. Experienced photographers get their pictures from professional service providers that use quality paper, better inks, and their printing process makes that photographer’s pictures look the best so they can promote their business. Let’s say a photographer gives you a CD of images that you take to WalMart and have printed. You show these photos to your friends and they look like crap for some reason. Suddenly, it’s the photographer’s fault for “taking bad pictures”, when it was really the fault of the printer, or maybe the kind of paper they used, etc. You get crappy pictures you’re not happy with, and this gives the photographer a bad image. They will lose any referrals they may have gotten because of this. This is another reason why any decent, experienced photographer sells the pictures themselves. This way, they have control over how their pictures are going to look when shown to the public, and what kind of image it will give their business.

    So, next time you decide to bash someone’s industry, maybe you could think a little more before simply spouting off just because you didn’t pay what you think you should have.

  14. Asos says:

    Parents save money by taking your own youth team photos. All Sorts of Sports does the rest. Turning your photos into professional looking products. Stop paying high prices for team photos. Picture day YOUR WAY!

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