Family Photos vs School Photos

My kids have been through almost every public school grade and every year we wonder if we should purchase the school pictures, or take the kids somewhere else to have their photos taken. Sometimes we have decided that we should do both.

As a photographer, I have worked on both sides. I have been a school photographer with a company taking the school portraits and I have been an independent photographer doing location photos with kids. There are certainly advantages to both. Perhaps some of the tips below will help you decide which is best for you.

School Portraits

The biggest advantage to school portraits is their biggest disadvantage. Because the school photographer is taking hundreds (even thousands) of kids, they are very well practiced at posing them quickly in a way that puts your children at ease as much as is possible in just a few minutes. The photographs are consistently the same - which assures that they will be good every time. And in post processing they can be enhanced with a variety of inserted backgrounds. 

On the other hand, the photos can appear very "Cookie cutter" as they are all posed the same way for every child. In reality what can appear to be half a dozen poses are really different crops of just one or two images. Of course this is an advantage if you want to put each year side by side for comparison.

Price is not bad either considering what you receive, and the variety in the products you can purchase is usually very good even if the poses are limited. 

If your child is the kind that likes to get messy, be sure to send instructions. The photographer will take care to groom the child properly with the assistance of the teachers, but they may not know that you wanted the sweatshirt off for the photo - and your child really wants it on. 

Of course the school photographer will provide you with a group photo of the student's classmates. That is something your independent photographer will not be able to do - unless you are willing to host a party for all their friends and their teacher.

Independent Photographer

While the price for a hired photographer may at first seem more than a school portrait company, when you begin to add the cost of prints, you may be receiving a much better value with an independent photographer. 

The reality is that the number of good images you will receive by far outnumbers the number of poses of a school portrait session. The independent photographer will take much more time with your child and will probably work closely with you if you wish to create an image that depicts their personality in a setting that matches who they are. They will usually take the photos at a location you choose - or even your own home.

With the advent of digital, many independent photographers will provide you with the digital files that you can print wherever, however, and in whatever quantities you wish. When this is weighed against the cost of prints, you may find the independent photographer is actually cheaper.

A session with an independent photographer may also include family and siblings at the same time - something the school photographs do not.

Grad Photos

Certain years, there is always the fun of cap and gown photos. An independent photographer can provide these for you along with other studio or location photographs. If your grad was into music, or drama, or chemistry or physics, you could even have some fun creating an environment that portrays them where they feel most comfortable. Were they into football or basketball? They could wear their uniform for some of the shots as a special memory. 

Your choice

Is there a better choice? The School Photographer, or the Independent Photographer? Each has it's advantages. But before you simply choose the school photographer by default, have a look around (or contact me) to talk about your options. Here are the advantages and disadvantages in chart form.

School Photos Independant Photographer
Advantages - Easy to obtain
- Consistent quality
- Class Photo available
- Provides a variety of images
- Parents can assist with grooming
- Parents can suggest poses
- Family members can be included in photos
- Digital files are available to print from
- Print options are available for photos
Disadvantages - Only one or two choices of pose
- Photographer has very little time with the child
- Parents have no control over grooming
- Prints are expensive
- Parents must coordinate time and possibly place
- Unless offered, green screen is unavailable.
- No photo with Class (Though it can be obtained from the school


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