Annual school pictures have been a well-kept tradition for generations. Have times changed enough to turn what was once priceless into a waste of money?
A Priceless Tradition
Looking at the school pictures of our parents and grandparents, it’s easy to say that these photographs are priceless treasures. Part of their value comes from their connection to us, but much of the value comes from the scarcity of photos in general. Pictures of ancestors are rarer the further back you go. In those days maybe only a graduation portrait and a wedding photo were taken.
School pictures were a priority for my mom. September was the tightest month of the year, since as a college professor, my dad wasn’t paid during the summer. Still, for her, the annual school photos were priceless. To this day she still regrets the one year there just wasn’t any money for school pictures. I don’t remember a thing about it, but it still weighs on her.
A Waste of Money
It’s pretty safe to say that the children growing up now are the most photographed generation in history. The average American now carries a camera in his pocket and likely has an even better camera at home. Just in the first year of life, our babies have been photographed more than all their grandparents combined! We aren’t limited by film or printing expenses. We aren’t even limited by storage. Aside from the initial cost of the camera, most of our photographs cost us nothing.
With the ability to take unlimited free pictures of our children, why would we spend money on pictures that aren’t even very good? Between the awkward smile, goofy photographer-styled hair, neon lights background and unnatural head turn, school pictures are often pretty awful (which oddly may be part of the draw).
When our daughter started kindergarten, we bought school pictures. I think we spent around $20 to get the smallest package that included a class picture. While I didn’t want to spend the money in our tight debt-payoff budget, I went ahead with the tradition.
For the record, my husband thought spending money on school pictures was unnecessary (we have hard drives full of pictures of our kids), but since he knew that I felt strongly about the tradition, he didn’t object.
The pictures were surprisingly decent. Still, we did not cut them up or distribute any. We did not frame them or scrapbook them. Two years later, they are sitting in the same envelope they came in, gathering dust.
When picture day rolled around last school year, the price doubled for us, as we had a kindergartner and a first grader. I thought about how much we hadn’t done with the previous year’s school pictures and decided we would keep our money and take our own photos. This year, there’s no question. We’ll handle our own kid photos.
Although we won’t use the school photographer, we’ll still make the annual pictures an event. Even though we have gigabytes of candid photos of our kids, I still like having formal pictures. We try to get family pictures taken at least once a year, which usually includes individual shots of the kids. This year we’re planning to take our own “school pictures” but without the sterile background (or shooting lasers) and uncomfortable posture.
What do you think?
- Are school pictures worth the money to you?
- Do you have a tradition of purchasing school pictures? Why or why not?
- Have you been successful taking more formal portraits of your own kids?