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Why You Should Spend More for these Backgrounds in your Lifetouch School Photos

It’s another Picture Day! Here’s why choosing the right background is the most important part of your kid’s Lifetouch Picture Day portrait. And what exactly is the right background…?

Our son’s 7th grade school ‘Picture Day’ is coming up, and it’s time again to decide which Lifetouch photo package to order. Sure, it’s nice to have another official ‘portrait,’ but I’ve already got plenty of photos of our twelve year old. For me, the reason to pay for yet another Lifetouch picture is only if it visually represents a specific moment in time. If you can’t tell it’s his 7th grade photo, what’s really the point?

While you can also write that detail on the back of a physical print, it’s best if the photograph itself displays the year or his grade.

The Two Best Digital Backgrounds
The ‘standard’ background offered in the less expensive photo packages is relatively useless. It’s just a colored background. That gives no indication that it’s a school portrait from a specific year.

In the old days, it may have been worth it to have one of these generic ‘professional photos’ for the coffee table. But today, come on… aren’t we all photographers who are capable of capturing countless amazing moments of our children to frame?

The standard background is a non-starter… I don’t need it. Don’t want it. Not worth it.

And remember, the portrait is shot on a green screen. In the post production process, the digital backgrounds can be easily changed with a click of a button. It really costs nothing to switch them around. (This is all about the perceived value of something, and what people will pay for it.)

Here are the two best digital backgrounds:

  • 7th Grade
  • 2022-2023

Either of those backgrounds provide the critical context. Without context, the photos aren’t school photos.

So, will you pay more for the right background in your kid’s Picture Day photo?

That’s certainly the hook for me.

The Digital-Only Package
I really only require the digital file of the portrait. (I can print out my own photos, thank you very much.) There’s no need to pay a premium for a physical print.

Clearly Lifetouch knows this, and they’ve been pretty stingy over the years giving up digital files, and they baked them into the more expensive packages.

Happily, this year, Lifetouch offers a Digital-Only Package for $34.99.

For that price, you get two digital files and no physical prints. It’s actually the same photo, but you get that generic background with the first photo file. Fortunately, the second photo file can have the background of your choice.

So really, you’re getting one jpeg for thirty five bucks.
(Then, you’ve got to print it out yourself, if you want a hard copy.)

The Basic Package
By comparison:

The least expensive Basic Package is $19.99.

  • You get one digital file with the awful standard background
  • And a few physical pics with the same standard background

Not interested.

And what do the more expensive packages get you?

The Plus Package
The $49.99 ‘Plus Package’ provides:

  • A whopping 5 digital files with the background of your choice
  • Plus your kid’s name and grade listed on the bottom of the photo
  • And all of the prints you’ll never really need (1 8×10, 4 5×7, 2 3×5, 8 2×3 wallets)

Do I need 5 digital backgrounds? No, not at all. (Only the two matter to me.)
Do I need all of those prints? Nope.

All that said, is it nice to have a couple prints? Sure. That way, I don’t have make the effort to print anything out. It’s delivered and done.

Delivered and Done
Is it worth $15 more to get what I really want and not have to boot up the Lester Printing Factory?

Or should I just spend $35 on the Digital-Only Package to get the one usable file and call it a day?

I’m sure the execs at Lifetouch have spent a fair amount of time noodling over this exact question.

$50 for what you want or $35 for what you need?

On, the Plus Package is promoted as “Best Value.”
After all of my griping on this topic, I must admit…that much is absolutely true.

Plus it is.


Fifty Bucks a Year?
Will I ever break free from my annual spend for Picture Day?

(I certainly haven’t reached escape velocity yet.)

But here’s one way to resolve my ongoing dilemma, if at least at least for another year…

At the end of the day, all I really want are the digital files with the background of my choice. Plus.. maybe one physical print for the convenience of not having to do it myself.

And how much does Lifetouch charge for an extra 8×10?

So by choosing the Plus Package for $49.99, I’ve actually saved myself two bucks!
(By comparison, the Digital Package plus the à la carte 8×10 print = $52)

I call that Lester Math Logic.

Happy Picture Day. And don’t forget to smile.

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…

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