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Take Your Own School Pictures

Updated on November 10, 2011

Take Your Own School Pictures

Professional portrait studio on the left, my portrait on the right.
Professional portrait studio on the left, my portrait on the right. | Source

Robin Anderson Photography

Today's professional portrait studios, (like the one that took the photograph on the left) are getting bigger and bigger. As they grow, the quality and time that is spent on your child's portrait is going down. This year we found a commercial photography shop that rents studio time by the hour and took our own portraits for a fraction of the cost.

You may be thinking that you can not do this, and you are wrong. Who better to give the attention to detail than someone who is invested in the results?

I have 3 children that are school age. I pre-paid for 3 packages to be taken by the national studio that comes to our school. My total cost was $115. When the photos came back, I was very disappointed. None of my children looked like themselves in the photos.

I decided to evaluate the photos the same as I would evaluate any photograph that I take. Here is what I came up with:

  1. Is the color true? - No, I thought all of the skin tones looked very pink, and her teeth may be a little yellow, but not orange.
  2. Is the photograph in focus? - Yes, I can't take off any points here.
  3. Is the photograph touched up, (which I paid extra for)? - No, not one of the photographs seemed to be retouched in any way!
  4. Is the model (in this case, my child) posed well? - No, all of my children were shot straight on. Any beginning photographer knows to look for the model's best side and pose accordingly. I'm not talking about a profile, but a slight turn would be better.
  5. Is the lighting done well in the photograph? - No, I can see dark shadows under the chin, the eyes look a little sunken.
  6. Is the model posed in a relaxed and flattering position? - No, my daughter looks like she is leaning in an awkward/unnatural position.

I should say that I am not evaluating the photograph to be mean. The evaluation was meant to serve as a tool to help me be objective. I asked questions that I felt reflect the standards that I hold myself to, and the professional photography company didn't hold up at all. Out of 6 basis criteria, they scored 1 out of 6 as a success.

My next quandary was this -- if I am going to reject these portraits and ask for my money back, then what am I going to do about school pictures for this year? My mother always told me not to "cut my nose off despite my face". Even more specifically, I asked myself -- do I think I can do better? I was not sure that I could actually say yes to that question. I have a nice camera and I like to shoot wildlife and landscapes and maybe people in outdoor settings, but I have never shot studio portraits before.

I also had to ask myself can I do it for $115 or less? The answer to that question is a surprising YES. Less than 30 miles away is the fairly large city. I found a small retail photography shop that rents studio time for $50/hour for the first hour and $40/hour for addition hours. They supplied the studio space, tons of choices of backdrops, studio lights (strobes) and continuous lights, tripods, even ladders, and a changing room. All I needed to bring was my own camera - easy! (In reality, the retail photography shop is hoping that we will buy equipment from them if we get the chance to try it out first.) What a great philosophy. I thought if this works out then, maybe I will buy my own equipment.

So, we loaded up the kids, the cameras and headed out for an adventure. It turned out to be easier than we thought and took exactly one hour. I went home and retouched my daughters chin for acne and a couple of stray hairs in her eyes, and that was it! We had a lot of fun and spent a fraction of the cost charged by the professional portrait photography company.

If you have a digital camera, (doesn't even have to be a professional full frame) and you do a little leg work and find a similar camera shop that rents studio time -- I say GO FOR IT! The other cost that I should mention is the cost of some sort of photo retouching software, which I already had.

Good luck and be inspired in everything you do!


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    • Robin Anderson profile image

      Robin Anderson 6 years ago from United States

      tipoague -- I love the idea of outside props. Thanks for the comment!

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from USA

      This is something to keep in mind. I have never like the photos the school took, so I would often find myself at a Wal-Mart getting photos for half the cost. After we moved to a smaller town, I started taking my own photos using outside props, or ones found in my house. It would have been nice to rent a photography studio.

      I will be sure to pass this information on to my siblings, whom still have children in school. Thanks for sharing this helpful information.

    • Robin Anderson profile image

      Robin Anderson 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Stephanie. I never realized either. When I asked for brochures on studio equipment that was when I found out about how (at least) one store lets you try it out.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 6 years ago from USA

      The photo that you shot of your daughter is lovely! So much better than the school photographer picture! I never realized that you could rent a photography studio to use for doing portraits.