Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Eighth Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

Just wanted to shoot you another quick letter and let you know that I’m super excited you and I are back together again for Fall Picture Day tomorrow. Getting those picture packets is like opening a box of Cracker Jack every year – I just can’t wait to see what we get.

In my fifth letter to you, I very helpfully detailed how much your website sucks. I assumed you would use that information to improve the website up to at least an level of user-friendliness. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

I wanted to take a minute this year and let you know what a total suckfest your website still is. To focus on the positive for a minute – When ordering my picture packets, there were only six annoying options to click ‘no thanks’ on this year, instead of the forty or fifty I had to wade through last year, so I take that as evidence that you actually have an IT guy. Although, based on everything else, I’m assuming it’s still that fourth-grader. Actually, I guess he or she would be in fifth grade this year. Tell them congratulations for me.

Back to the suckfest - I already had an account with a username and password from years prior, so I logged in and was happy to see my information on the screen, but the momentary hopefulness dissolved quickly as I noticed the system had not saved my sons’ info. Why? Why would you not save that? They’re the ones getting their pictures taken.

On the front page you invited me to ‘add students,’ so I did. It went OK, but I’d like to point out that once I tell you what state and city our oldest boy lives in, and what school he attends, it might be nice if you were to auto-fill that info in for the other two boys instead of having me have to start completely fresh every time. We don’t have one of our elementary school children in California and another in Idaho like I guess you assume most people do? We all live in the same house.

Once I was done with the longer-than-it-needed-to-be process of typing in the exact same information for three kids I was absolutely thrilled to see that when I actually tried to order pictures, I had to type in all that information again. Separately. Three times.

Apparently I was only ‘adding students’ to my new Lifetouch ‘My Rewards’ program that I thought was the start of the order process, but is actually not related to anything helpful about ordering pictures. You did offer me a ‘FREE Hi-Res Digital Image’ through my new My Rewards account that now remembers my boys’ names (but again, I feel I need to point out, does not transfer them through to the actual order process, which would be the only reason anyone would want your website to remember their kids’ names). I didn’t get the news about the amazing free Hi-Res image deal until after my purchase, and there does not seem to be any way to add it to my order now, so thanks for nothing, really. It’s OK, though. We’re really a Lo-Res family anyway. We get too Hi-Res and we might start to notice the mustard stains on their faces and shirts.

I also see that you have completely done away with that annoying family plan, where I got to pay less because I had more than two kids at the school. Thanks. I hated saving that money.

A half-hour later I clicked ‘complete order’ and logged off in disgust again this year. You have one of the only websites that makes people wish they were on the DMV’s website instead. Congratulations for that, I guess.

Then, moments later in my inbox, you made up for everything with your order summary email. I was thrilled to see that you thought enough of our relationship to include the following inspirational statement and handy link:

We're excited for your student's Picture Day! Click here for advice from kids on how to prepare for Picture Day!

I clicked here, and there was apparently supposed to be a video at the top of the page, and I’m sure it was adorable – probably super-cute kids giving hilariously precious advice to parents, like, “Make sure you feed your kids doughnuts on picture day, because doughnuts make you smile,” and stuff like that. I wouldn’t know, because the video failed to play. You can go ahead and make another note for your fifth grade IT guy.

Then came the five pearls of wisdom:

Use these tips to help your child get ready for a great-looking school portrait that you’ll treasure forever.

1) Help your child pick out clothes and colors that look good on them. After all, your child is the star of the photo—not their shirt, so avoid slogans, logos, and big patterns. Small jewelry and accessories are fine but nothing too big or distracting. Make sure to check your flyer to see sample poses for your Picture Day. Some poses may show pants or skirts, so plan the complete outfit.

Look, it’s either pick out the clothes for them, or get what you get. They can’t be involved in the decision making. Case in point would be that time you took a picture of Son Number Three wearing a T-shirt featuring a bear in full road leathers and gloves, riding a green motorcycle in front of a U.S. flag shaped like an outline of the United States. That ‘no logo’ advice would have been handy then.

And thanks for the pose advice. Where was this nugget a few years back when you had my kids sitting on a plastic “rock” that looked like a giant cow pie? I sent them to school in soccer shorts and your pictures ended up just showcasing all their knee injuries.

2) Glasses are okay! Lifetouch photographers know all the tricks to reduce glare.

So we should let Son Number Two wear his glasses on picture day? Thanks for the heads up. Now I feel like a jerk. A lot of those knee injuries were from trying to bike to school without his glasses that day.

3) Any hairstyle works for Picture Day. Schedule haircuts a few weeks ahead of time to allow hair to grow back a little, or you can go for a fresh-cut look.

I like how you give me so many options. One question, though. By ‘any hairstyle’ do you also mean bed head? Because bed head is by far our most common hair style for our boys on any given school day.

4) Keep kids relaxed and ready to be themselves. Smiles can look fake if they’re practiced ahead of time. Remember, smiles are like french fries—they’re better when they’re fresh.

I guess this sort of applies to Son Number Two. Son Number Three however, has never relaxed. Unless you want to take a picture of him sleeping, you’re going to have to deal with wild and crazy. And as far as Number One goes, no amount of relaxation or French fry jokes are going to help with his Chronic Forced Smile Disorder. The struggle with CFSD is real and we’re still looking for a treatment center.

5) Don’t worry about “perfect”! That hair that always sticks up or a missing tooth shows your child just as they are right now—and you’ll enjoy looking back on that for years to come. On Picture Day, teachers and volunteers will help straighten collars and check posture. And, if you like, we have retouching options for scrapes and blemishes.

Really? We’ll enjoy looking at bed head for years to come? Tell that to my wife. I’m not sure she’s buying it.

And teachers and volunteers will help straighten collars and check posture, huh? Hmm... I guess that might be true, but I think sometimes they might get sidetracked dealing with little Johnny making fart noises in line and blaming it on Suzy. Either way, could you do me a huge favor? When you look through the lens and see something other than collars or posture out of place – oh, I don’t know, like maybe food stuck to my son’s face - in two different places, I might add – could you maybe grab a wet wipe and help clean him up a tad. We’re not worrying about “perfect” over here, but we’re not going to send the grandparents a picture of our boy with an entire noodle from his macaroni and cheese stuck to his cheek.

And yes, I know all about the retouching options. I spent ten minutes clicking ‘no thanks’ to all of them before you’d let me order. I’m not willing to give you money to digitally edit out the mac ‘n cheese noodle. Napkins cost less. Let’s use them.

That’s it! Our experienced photographers are pros at making a fun and worry-free Picture Day.

OK, if you say so. Thanks for all the good advice. We’re excited about Picture Day, too.

I’m over here just giddy with anticipation. Good luck tomorrow.

All my best,


Copyright © 2016 Marc Schmatjen

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