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School Picture Thievery

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This school picture thing is a pretty big racket if you ask me, and if you’re a parent you know what I am talking about. If there is any place you know it and can feel yourself being ripped off but can’t do anything about it, it is definitely with school pictures and sports team photos.

I have felt this frustration in the past, but it kind of boiled to a head this year when I went to order my daughter’s school pictures. It usually isn’t a big deal trying to order them, but being the “non-custodial” parent who usually gets the information second-hand sometimes it takes a while to get it done. (Yes, I realize I could just have photographer friend take the photo and avoid all the trouble so I guess I am a glutton for punishment).

Anyway, I logged onto the website with my special code and wanted to just download the image to my computer and then go have them printed in the quantities and styles I desired. So, I selected the outrageously overpriced digital image – $22. Say what? Yeah, you read that right…let’s do some quick math…

If a school has 300 hundred students and the photographer can get 60 students through a line and photographed per hour, then the photographer would work for five hours. The photographer is, most likely, using a digital camera to take said digital images @ $22 each, therefore making $1320/hr, or $6600/day. That is of course presuming that each parent purchases just the digital image, let alone one of the other overpriced packages they offer. Now we know not all parents purchase the pictures, but you get the idea.

So, after choosing the digital image for download I get to the check out page only to see that I am going to be charged a “Shipping and Handling” fee of $7. Uh, wait, what? I am downloading a digital image. Why is there a shipping and handling fee? What’s worse is that I can’t remove the fee either. The radial button is greyed out. I either pay the fee right now, or wait until the next day to call them. So, I opted to call the company the next day since surely the fee for a digital download isn’t $7 bucks…

I called the next day and waded through their automated answering system until I got to a real person to talk to. I explained my situation and asked if there was some kind of error on their website that wouldn’t allow me to remove the shipping and handling fee. The response?

“No, that is a flat fee we charge for all late orders.” 

Late? Yes, it is true I didn’t order when the pictures were taken in the fall, but your website says they can be ordered at any time until following fall AND there is nothing to indicate this is a “late” order on the website. I was a little dumbfounded. I said, “You’re joking right? How does downloading a digital image warrant a $7 late fee or even a shipping and handling fee?”

“Well, we do have to mail you the rights release so you can have the picture printed.”

So what you’re saying is that you are going to charge me $7 to mail me a sheet of paper and an envelope that costs, at best, a stamp or maybe two? I said, “Listen, I understand it costs money to send a piece of paper and envelope out to me but I have ordered digital images from other photographers in the past and they didn’t charge me an extra fee for the rights release, they included it with the digital image download. Surely you have the ability to do that right? So, why would I need a piece of paper mailed to me? It takes less than three minutes to compose a generic email and attach two image files to it.”

“Ok, I suppose I could waive the shipping and handling fee. What email address would you like the images sent to?”

Thank you. Now was that so hard and how about you waive all shipping and handling fees for all digital downloads from here on out? I probably speak for everyone who has encountered this ridiculous fee. There is no reason for it other than you can, and you have families over a barrel. I would venture a guess that many people just pay the fee, which is sad.

Highway robbery, I tell ya, only there was no highway and the bandit holds parents and other family members hostage every dang year around school picture time.

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History: In Living Color

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Every once in a while I come across a website that piques my interest. Some are cool, some are strange, and some are just down right fascinating. This one was both fascinating and frustrating, so I thought I would share and see what your thoughts are on it.

The website is for Marina Amaral, an artist who uses Photoshop to painstakingly add color to historical photos that were taken in black and white. To see her work, click on the link and then either click into the “Portfolio” or “Blog” pages. She does a fantastic job on the transformations through research to try and match the reality of the time the picture was taken.

It is cool to see photos that I have only seen in black and white come to “life.” It is fascinating to see the life flow through the people and places in the image. That part is cool and adds a sort of unknown depth to the photo.

HOWEVER, that is also the frustrating part as well!  One thing we have to be careful of is not letting these photos stand alone to become part of the historical record. I believe they are best viewed with the original photo, side by side. The reason is that we, in our search to “know” everything, tend to let changes to history go without challenging them. When we stop challenging them, they actually become the history we wanted to view through a different lens. Whether it is intentional or not, there has to be caution in such recreations of history. We can’t let the historical record change so that the only pictures we view in the future of these subjects are the ones that have had the color added.

Let me offer an example from personal experience. In the past, I have shown historically based films in my classroom. The first caution I have always gave before showing the film was that it was someone’s interpretation of the history, not the actual history – regardless of how well the movie was done and tried to follow the historical record closely. I always encouraged the students to study the subject further to find out if what they saw was accurately portrayed or not. The students used to complain, complain that the film was in black and white. “Why is it in black and white…”, “Isn’t there a film about this in color…”, etc etc. Their first inclination was that it was boring if there was no color, even if the film was a modern film but done in black and white for theatrical purposes (such as Schindler’s List).

Our students (and maybe our society as a whole) has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction, so studies show that Americans (and probably others) tend to think that what they saw in a historically based film is true. They accept it as fact. Thus, when we look at photos that have been colored in such a realistic and beautiful way, I am afraid the original photos will lose relevance in a world where “reality” and “facts” mean so little.

Does that make sense? Do you worry about the same thing? Or, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? What do you think?