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…
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.
It’s time for juice and cookies…