Along the Way
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It’s OK to not buy school pictures

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It is that time of year again. Back to school is here with budget busting purchases around every corner.  I have found that we are able to keep our costs down by not buying into much of the hype. We don’t buy things we don’t need, including the traditional grade school picture.  I’m here to tell you that it is OK to not buy school pictures.  We haven’t bought school pictures in a decade.  The school pictures we did buy continue to sit with just one or two cut out.  I am here to say school pictures are a waste of money and are basically garbage.

We personally pocket the $150 we would spend on basic school photo packages and save it for our yearly budget friendly Disneyland vacation. People can save or spend their money however they want. If you love school pictures and that tradition, you go for it! I just don’t love them and I really enjoy having another $150 towards our discounted Disneyland trip!

When we are preparing for a new school year we buy a couple new outfits, but not an entire new wardrobe.  We reuse backpacks and folders year after year as long as they are in decent condition.  We make simple cards and shop sales for school supplies for our teacher. 

One thing that has not been in our budget for many years is school pictures. Let’s all be honest, school pictures are trash.  I don’t have time to be nice about it, they are the worst pictures ever. School pictures are cheesy and expensive. You can recreate school pictures so easily if you really like that look. A sweet smiley kid holding up a chalkboard in natural light can also be snapped with a cell phone and probably come out cuter than what is available through the school. Call me crazy, but I will forever shout from the rooftops that it is OK to not buy school photos.  Save your money!

Its OK to not buy school picturesEvery year since preschool I have purchased school pictures of all three kiddos.  Crappy backgrounds, forced poses, and terrible lighting seems to be the formula.  Every year I complained about the expense of something I didn’t want. Last year I finally liberated myself from school pictures.  It took me a while to get over the weird guilt, but I am here to tell you it is OK to not buy school pictures.

Picture day is fun, I have always let the kids wear whatever they want.  For my oldest this means a polyester flower girl dress that I drug home from a thrift store along with some of her Aunt Jewel’s fancy hand me down accessories.  My son often wears an obnoxious saying shirt, even though I have told him nobody will be able to read it the way the photo is cropped.  My littlest? It doesn’t matter, she isn’t gonna sit for a stranger anyway. The big ones bring home their little slip with four mediocre pictures, we talk about how beautiful and big they are.  We put them in a drawer never to look at them again.  Do I buy these pictures? Not anymore. They are terrible.

For a few years I bought pictures begrudgingly because I thought it did some greater good.  I operated under the false understanding that the pictures were a fundraiser for the school. I asked at one point what the percentage of the donation was.  My world came crashing down when I heard there was no fundraiser, and never had been. I have no idea where I got this idea, but now the only thread that kept me buying sub par pictures was snapped.

Now hear me when I say I don’t mind paying photographers.  What I do have a problem with is paying for stuff I don’t like or that is redundant. I pay for great photography about once a year.  We have these beautiful photos taken in beautiful, natural, glowy light.  The setting and our wardrobe flow effortlessly with our home decor. It is almost criminal to hang up the collection of these beautiful photos and then slap a conventional school picture next to it. My photographer gives me a disc with images so I can make wallets for Grandma and Grandpa and anyone else of the fantastic portraits…. so why would I give them this wallet picture that is just kinda ‘meh’?  School pictures set me back about $100 if I buy the least expensive package for each kid. I pass on the school pictures and don’t feel bad about booking a mini session with a natural light photographer.

why i dont buy school pictures

School pictures are garbage.

School pictures are a tradition that continue to linger on even though technology makes it unnecessary.  The photographers, set up, and timing has not changed despite our cell phones creating cooler pics on the first day of school.  If you like the nostalgia of school pictures; go ahead and buy them; but they are an inferior product.

So the drill was the same each year. The last two years it was three sets of pictures!  Stiff poses – check. Forced smiles – check. Bad lighting – check. Cheesy background you’ve been rolling down for the last ten twenty years – check. Do your kids have glasses? Yes. Great, we will order some inexcusable glare on those photos. We have lots of package choices, which would you like?

This is a fish in a barrel situation for the photographer. Most schools have hundreds of kids.  Teachers line them all up for efficiency. Many photographers work for all the schools in the school district. With digital photography being as easy to produce I cannot understand why they aren’t working a little bit harder to improve the quality of the photos.  Their craft is easier to produce and they are still charging a similar amount to what my parents were charged 25 years ago. Don’t even get me started on the photo packages, when we live in a world where we can print from a disc. I have heard people say “I wish they had a better photographer.”and “I wish we had other options, but this is their only school picture.” Is it though?

Growing up I had a couple friend’s who didn’t even own a family camera.  School pictures were not much worse than a trip to Olan Mills, which many people could not afford.  While my parents did have a camera, film was expensive and you didn’t see the pictures until you had developed them. For many, school pictures were the one consistent half way decent picture to document a child over the years. Photography and access to it has evolved significantly, but school pictures are pretty much the same as they have always been. Tradition? I mean, maybe.  But I don’t like this tradition.

Now nearly everyone has a cell phone with a camera on it.  Not everyone, but it is very common.  On any day of the week you can get a photo package at Picture People for $11. At Picture People (or any mall photo studio) you are at least going to have the option of different poses and backgrounds and a little more time spent with your child. I’m not really trying to sell you on mall photography either; I’m just saying it is often better quality and almost always a better deal. I’ve honestly seen advertisements for mini sessions with natural light photographers in our area advertised for less than what our three packages add up to.  Pinterest can lead you to hundreds of articles on how to improve your photography even with an iPhone or point and shoot camera. Many people have a home printer that prints photo quality and many photographers will now give you a disc with photos on it to print to your heart’s content. So again, with all these options at my fingertips WHY am I gonna pay $30 for two 5X7 and a sheet of wallets of a stiff picture of my kid?

“But Kate, your kid will not have a class picture with all their friends!” Call me crazy, I do not care about having a picture of other people’s kids.  After the first five minutes of ownership of a class picture my kids don’t care either.  They look at it and never ever ask to see it ever again.  Also I have dozens of pictures of my kids with their friends. We have pictures from birthday parties and class outings throughout the year.  So we are covered in that department too.

I haven’t bought pictures the last couple years and the world still spins.  Just thought I would pass it along…. it is OK to not buy school pictures.


Until Next Time ~ Kate
Categories:  Family, Kids
  1. Julie Bigboy says:

    I’m so glad you said what I’ve been thinking for years! Stopped buying them and we’re having our first professional natural light session in a few weeks!

    • kate says:

      Julie – you are gonna love your photos! Natural light is just really hard to beat! I felt weird the first time I didn’t buy school pics but it is a relief now =)

  2. My kids aren’t in school yet, but these are some great points. I had never thought about “school pictures” in this day in digital age – but you’re spot on!

    • kate says:

      I think it is just a weird tradition that so many just feel they ‘have to’ get – we have LOTS of photos of our kids now – no need IMO =)

  3. “Call me crazy, I do not care about having a picture of other people’s kids.” – hahaha! Such a good point. My kids aren’t old enough for these photos quite yet, but you’re absolutely right. I pay a professional photographer to take meaningful photos of our family every year, and they’re SO much nicer – I’m going to take your permission to not buy school photos!

    • kate says:

      right?! and I can all but promise you will have pics of your kids with their classmates – whether bday parties or class events – you will have a nice collection by the end of the year. As they get older a yearbook is a nice collection, but school pics – nah. I release you from this outdated tradition! Please feel free to treat yourself to something fun with the $20 – $50 you would have otherwise spent! Enjoy! =)

  4. OMG…I just got an email telling us that school pics were going to be this Thursday. My first thought, I wish I had more notice. My next thought, do I really need to stress about this? I was starting to worry about how much they were going to cost and what she was going to wear. Thank you for sharing this because I really did not want to buy photos this year. When I asked her what she wanted to wear, she didn’t even care. LOL!

    • kate says:

      ha! see! Let her wear whatever she wants, keep the little sample pics they send home – but use that $20 – $50 on a mani pedi and call it a day 😉 – take a pic with your iPhone at drop off and make wallets to send to grandma – done 😉

  5. Rhonda Swan says:

    Hahaha! Great article! I think you got the key issue in all this – we all have cameras in our pockets at all times now and have hundreds (thousands?) of pics of our kids. Keep up the great work here, and live unstoppable!

  6. Meena says:

    After reading. I went over my old stuff all night (fr 9p-2am).
    I found several photos of my grades school friends. (G3-6) n tbh, I dun remember who they were lol. Altho there r name there on back, I ended puttin them bck to boxes. Just incase …MAY BE one day I’ll find out who they are/were.
    But yes we are in digital world now. And I think school pix r so unnecessary. Schools should stop this tradition, stop making parents feeling guilty about not buying them.
    I didnt ordered any of them last year n save well over 200 ish. But felt a little guilty :/
    Good tat I stumble into ur posts

  7. Jessica says:

    spot on, we give the code to the grandparents and let them order. Those photos one day will be ours again (morbid I know, but true) and who needs them when we are photographers ourselves and take AMAZING photos of our kids on our vacations every year.

  8. D Witz says:

    Last few years, my one remaining school kid hasn’t given a flying funk about her photos, maybe even actively hated them. I have school photos that were so terrible they embarrassed me for years and my mom would complain about how I didn’t smile or should have brushed my hair or other stuff. It was a gesture I made when mine were little to show that I was interested but now my daughter doesn’t even get her picture taken at all. We don’t buy the yearbook anyway.

    It’s just like all the rubbish they insist you need when a kid graduates. They act like it’s essential. “Don’t forget to order your senior flowers!” “Don’t forget to order your senior banner!” Like this isn’t an option but a thing you almost forgot you have to do. Same with school photos. They all suck and my photos of my kids are all much more fun, hiking on hillsides or wearing funny hats or petting a Pomeranian other far more interesting things.

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