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Tag: family photography

How to Decide which Lifetouch School Picture Package is Best for You

Buying School Picture Day photos doesn’t have to feel complicated. Here’s how I determined what to order…

Our son is in fifth grade, and I’ve been faithfully ordering Lifetouch School Picture Day photos for years. Each time, I pledge to only buy what I really need. Invariably, I realize there are compromises to be made that have necessarily increased the price point. This year is no different. But this time, I think I got it right.

At the end of the day, all I really want is a digital file of my boy’s school portrait. I can then print additional photos at home. I don’t need Lifetouch’s more expensive prints. (Although I do understand that’s the foundation of its business model.)

Also, the photo’s background needs to reflect that this is a school photo and display my son’s elementary school grade. Otherwise, it’s really just another generic posed photo which holds little value for me. The photo has to clearly be his school photo. (I’ve got plenty others.)

If you have a similar perspective, here are my suggestions on how to get the best deal when ordering your Lifetouch photos (assuming there’s still a school picture day scheduled in your neck of the woods during this year so affected by COVID-19).

Order the Basic Package
I really don’t want all of the extra prints that are part of the more expensive packages. (A few prints are just fine.)

I’m looking for the one digital file with the correct background. (And my son’s class photo would be nice too.)

The good news is the Basic Package gives you:

  • 1 8×10
  • 2 5×7
  • the class picture (size unknown)
  • and the digital file! (available as a download via Shutterfly)

All that costs $14.99.
(That’s a much better price point than the forty bucks I’ve been spending in previous years.)


You only get access to the generic background with the Basic Package.

Then, Add to the Basic Package
There is a workaround, but it’s an analog solution…

You can add on an extra printed photo to your package and then choose the background you really want for that additional print.

The next step is to simply digitize this physical photo when it shows up. (Scan it or take a picture of the picture.)

Then, you’ve finally got what you wanted in the first place. No, your digital copy won’t look as perfect as the original photo file, but if you order an 8×10, your scanned version should be fine for most uses.

And the price for that extra 8×10?

  • $14.99

So add that to the original $14.99 Basic Package for a new new total of $29.98 (plus tax).

Consider the Plus Package
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of MacGyvering your purchase to save money, your next choice is to go with the Plus Package for $44.99. That officially unlocks the option to choose your own background(s), and it also provides a whole lot more prints that you may or may not want. (In this smartphone age, does anyone even use 2×3 wallet photos anymore?)
Here’s what you get:

  • 1 -8×10
  • 4 -5×7
  • 2- 3×5
  • 8 -2×3 Wallets
  • the class picture
  • and the digital images via Shutterfly

Plus, you get the name and grade on all prints and basic retouching.
(I’d already have the grade as part of the background. As for the photo-retouching… I think that’s unnecessary for kids.)

Barrett’s 2020 Lifetouch School Picture Day Purchase
There are a couple of other packages that offer additional combinations of physical prints, but that didn’t move the needle for me.

I kept my focus on Basic vs. Plus. And it boiled down to this:

  • Spend $15 more for the Plus Package to easily choose your photo backgrounds (and get more prints)
  • Or keep it ‘Basic’ and order the extra 8×10 print with the right background. And then scan that print.

I took a look at my past purchases, and I’ve always gone Plus.

But I have a confession to make. I have a cabinet at home filled with photos that have yet to find a final destination (album or frame). In it, there’s a folder containing years of Lifetouch prints I’ve never used. There were just too many. It’s a painful reminder that I never needed all of those photos in the Plus plans.

Sure, spending a little more for the Plus Package provides all of the ordering flexibility you’ll want. But if you don’t use what you buy, that’s not good value.

So, I decided to keep it basic this year:

  • The Basic Plan for $14.99
  • Plus the extra 8×10 print for another $14.99 with the background that says 5th Grade


Buy What You Need
Future Barrett might laugh at me for going through all of this effort to save $15. But Future Barrett might also nod approvingly at my ability to finally get the equation right for my actual needs.

I think that’s called progress.

The Best Way to Order Lifetouch Photos after Picture Day

Take it from a parent who has done this four times already… you’ve got to keep it simple when approaching your Lifetouch photo order. And it all boils down to one important detail…

It’s that time of year again at my son’s elementary school… Picture Day. Lifetouch photographers arrived to take individual photo portraits of all of the students. And of course, I’m one of the parents who’s always guaranteed to buy a picture package. I’m not exactly sure why it feels so important… why I need my son’s official fourth-grade photo. It’s not like I don’t have any pictures of him. Heck, I’ve even got a cool collection of pics I snapped as he walked into his first day at school this year. Couldn’t one of those be his fourth-grade picture? Apparently not.

I think I still suffer from a 19th-century belief-system that a posed and sometimes awkward-looking photograph is the official way to visually document a family’s history. And I’m not alone. But today, we don’t really need a professional photographer to take a simple shot of our children in front of a green screen. We’ve got skills, right? Even a smartphone could get the job done. In fact, why couldn’t kids simply take selfies of themselves on school picture day? It would be fun, easy and essentially free.

I know I might get a few nasty letters from angry parents and Lifetouch (now owned by Shutterfly) even for suggesting this radical idea. But if I could put on my futurist hat for a moment…. I wonder how solid the annual school photo business model will be in a few decades when today’s kids grow up and become elementary school parents.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

So Many Hurdles
It’s still today, and I’ve again got some Lifetouch photo-ordering decisions to make. I’ve gone through this exercise for the past four years… As simple as the photo-package choices appear, every year it’s still a relatively complicated online purchasing process to figure out exactly what you’re getting. And it’s expensive.

The truth is, all I really want is the one digital file of my son’s photo. I can handle the rest. But that’s not a business model for any kind of profit… so the digital file is never something you can purchase just by itself.

So, I inevitably select a more expensive photo package than I need, and I’ve tried to maximize the value of my orders by choosing different backgrounds for as many of the physical photos I end up getting.

And I’ve done all of this without the benefit of seeing my son’s actual portrait ahead of time. (This blind-selection process is also a business model that really shouldn’t stand the test of time.)

And now, as I go through all of this again for a fifth round, I’ve had a parental epiphany… I’ve realize I’ve been looking at this all wrong!

Let the Background Tell the Story
I thought I was being clever by ordering lots of different digital backgrounds in my photo package. In fact, that detail is entirely irrelevant. You’ve got only one image of your kid to work with. One background is all you really need, because different backgrounds really can’t obscure the reality that it’s still the same picture!

And the other mind-bending reality I’ve finally figured out is the image of my kid is mostly irrelevant. As long as he looks okay and isn’t mid-blink, that’s not the central element of the photograph. This picture isn’t really about him…

I’ve realized the most important part of my son’s school portrait is the ‘when!’ It’s his ‘fourth grade’ photo.

And to reflect that, this year I’ve chosen the digital background that says…
“4th Grade.”
That’s it. That’s the piece that matters most.

Maybe you’ll prefer the background which displays the year. I think that’s okay too. But in future years, you’ll later need to do the math about which grade that was.

For me, all that matters is the digital background choice that displays the school grade. That’s the whole point of the picture.

And that also gives the photo some long-term value. Otherwise, it becomes just another one of thousands of photos that will briefly cycle through your consciousness or social media stream.

Finding the Joy of Simplicity
So suddenly, this whole Lifetouch ordering exercise is so simple. Just choose the background with your kid’s grade. Everything else is like buying the extra undercoating on a new car.
(They don’t really do that anymore, but you get my point.)

Try not to buy a bigger and more expensive package than you need, and please don’t forget to select a package that gives you access to your digital file via Shutterfly.

Pencils down.
It’s time for juice and cookies…

How to Take a Great Family Selfie without a Selfie Stick

If you love using your selfie stick, please allow me this opportunity to show you another way to the perfect family photo…

I don’t know about you, but the idea of using a selfie stick freaks me out. Having to attach your expensive smartphone onto a fragile grip mount and then extending it way beyond your reach on a long pole… all in the name of being able to snap a good selfie is downright frightening.

Sure, you might get a good photo out of it, but there could be other consequences if the unexpected happens. What if you lose control of your selfie stick, and your smartphone falls from ten feet up? I bet you’re assuming I’m talking about the shattering impact on an unforgiving cement surface. Not necessarily…

During our recent vacation to Niagara Falls, I observed scores of selfie sticks in action and extended over what I would consider a no-fly zone… the Niagara River! You’ve got to believe that over the years, there have been at least a few unfortunate smartphones that have taken the plunge over the Falls after capturing the perfect selfie…

Now, lots of folks love using their selfie sticks. And I grant that I may be in the minority on this topic. But if I may, I’d like to offer a few other ways to generate a great group family photo without using a selfie stick…

Ask a Stranger
First off, you may not actually have to take a selfie. It should go without saying that it’s okay to ask a stranger to take your photo. You can also simultaneously offer to take their photo as a reciprocal gesture.
(Chances are you’re not the only one who’d like to take advantage of a photographic opportunity.)

And assuming the stranger can frame the shot and get everyone’s eyes open, it should be a pretty good picture, simply because it’ll likely be wide enough to reveal the background.
(Where you are is always an important part of any group photo.)

I find most strangers actually err by not zooming in enough or walking forward. But that’s okay, because you can crop the shot later.

Use a Wider Lens
If nobody else is around, and you’re on your own, the trick is to make sure you’re using a camera with a wide enough lens. It needs to be able to see your entire family when you stretch out your arm to attempt the selfie.
(My Panasonic Lumix LX10 has a zoom lens that starts at 24mm, which is perfect to capture my family and me. I’ve also successfully jammed eight people into my Lumix selfies, but it’s a snug shot.)

Not all cameras and smartphones use lenses that wide. So, you’ve got to pay attention to this detail. (I understand the iPhone 11 has a wider front-facing camera for horizontal group selfies.)

Don’t Look at the Screen
Of course, it really helps if you can actually see what your selfie is going to look like. This isn’t a problem when using a smartphone, because the front screen is always right there. But if you’re holding a standalone camera, it’s much better if its rear screen can flip up for you to see.

Either way, you’ve got to instruct everyone to not look at the screen, but at the lens. Otherwise, you’ll capture this odd moment of your family looking someone distracted. They’ll be sort of looking at the lens, but not really.

Don’t Forget the Basics
Once you’ve figured out how to get your whole family framed in the shot, here are a few more tips to get the best selfie possible-

  • Always snap several photos.
    (That helps ensure someone isn’t blinking at the wrong moment.)
  • Try to make sure there’s enough light hitting you from the front to keep you well lit.
  • Avoid harsh, direct sunlight that’s sure to make someone in your shot squint in pain.
  • Frame the shot to include the key parts of your environment.

Granted, you may not be able to architect your shot to include all of these factors. If you’ve got to compromise, don’t give up the ‘where.’
(When you’re at Niagara Falls, you’d better show some water in the background!)

Finally, taking a good selfie with any camera takes practice. So, you’ve got some homework to do if you’re using a new camera.

Maintain Control
The most important point is you don’t have to use a selfie stick to get the shot you want. You could choose to rely on the kindness of strangers, or you may need to stretch your arm out to the edge of its sockets…

But your smartphone will remain firmly within your sphere of influence.

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