Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An Open Letter to Lifetouch School Portraits

Dear Lifetouch School Portraits,

What in the world are you people at Lifetouch thinking over there? Our relationship this year started off fine. You showed up at my kids’ school in September and took pictures of them. That was great, with the exception of the fact that two of my three boys have smiling disorders (think Chandler from Friends), so we had to do retakes. While I can’t blame you for my boys’ painful-looking, forced camera smiles, I would think that as professional photographers with digital cameras, you might notice when a child’s smile resembles that of someone passing a kidney stone, and snap another one while trying a little harder to make them laugh or something. Anyway, the retakes came out just fine, and I have no complaints about the September photo session.

What I am a little befuddled by is why you showed up again in February. You realize that September and February are only five months apart, right? Why are we doing school pictures twice in one year? Are you planning to come back in June, also?

“Here’s Hannah’s first grade early year photo, followed by first grade mid-year, then first grade waning year, and finally, first grade graduation.”

Should we ramp it up a little more, so we can really overload the grandparents?

“Here’s little Jimmy on Monday of Week 1. Here he is on Week 2. Look how much he’d grown. Here’s Week 3. He’s getting so handsome. Wait until you see him on Week 4…”

OK, so you showed up twice in one school year. I guess if the school let you in, then that’s just fine. In January, I received all three of your order forms for the second photo session in my three giant weekly stacks of homework and never-ending school notices. I ignored them. (See reasoning above.)

Here’s another thing I don’t understand. Why, then, if I had ignored your order forms, thereby deliberately not returning them to you, did you proceed to take pictures of my three boys?

OK, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that maybe you just default to taking pictures of all the kids just in case someone forgot their order form. I did not forget my order forms, nor did I ever send you order forms after the fact, so…

Here’s what has me flummoxed: Why did you then send me three full picture packages, one for each of my boys, all including:
(1) 8x10
(2) Regular 5x7’s
(1) 5x7 with special swirly colored border complete with year and child’s first name
(4) Wallet-size with above-mentioned swirly border
(8) Regular wallet-size

All the pictures listed above were printed on standard film paper. In each package you also sent me pictures printed on a stiff plastic laminate sheet, consisting of:
(1) Wallet-size calendar
(4) Key chain fobs
(1) Ruler (Which handily measures from negative 1/16” to positive 5-3/32”)
(1) Bookmark
(1) Rearview mirror and/or hotel doorknob hanging accessory

Between the standard pictures and the plastic laminate sheet of highly useful picture accessories, that is a lot of stuff I didn’t order (on purpose, I might reiterate).

In each unsolicited picture package, you also included a handy order form with instructions; I could either buy the whole exciting package for $47, or choose which of the enticing – yet, wholly unsolicited - sheets I so desire. Easy payment options abound for me, the proud parent, and if I found myself not wanting any one of the beautifully printed picture sheets, I was instructed to return them to the school.

That’s not going to happen.

I’m not going to send you any money, and I’m not going to send you any pictures back. Here are the reasons why:

Reason # 1: I’m not going to buy them because I didn’t want them in the first place. That is why I deliberately didn’t order them in the first place.

Reason #2: I’m not going to send them back to you because that would just cost me time, and I don’t have enough time each day as it is. (See evidence of the three children in question that you took unsolicited pictures of.)

Reason #3: Sending the pictures back would also cost my school time, and they have less time in the day than I do. (See evidence of all the children in the whole school that you took pictures of.) They eat lunch standing up in front of a copy machine, for goodness sake.

Reason #4: Sending them back will also cost you money. I know I am saving you quite a bit of money since you will no doubt need to treat these three unsolicited picture packets like any other incredibly precious returned product bound for secure destruction; hiring a secure courier service to transport them to a secure facility to have them shredded and destroyed, documenting their pick-up, transportation, arrival, and destruction at every step of the process.

I mean, we obviously wouldn’t be treating dossiers that have my child’s photo, full name, grade level, and teacher’s name printed on them any other way, right? Right?

Those are just the top-level reasons why I’m not going to do what you asked of me, in an unsolicited manner.

Since I have taken time out of my busy schedule to address your unsolicited picture packets, I might as well take a little more time to explain some of the more subtle reasons why I won’t be purchasing any of these photos to keep. Hopefully you can use these observations to improve your business model.

We allow our three boys to choose their own clothes in the morning. My wife and I developed this revolutionary parenting style: a) to foster independence and self-reliance in our children, and b) to minimize crying fits and keep us from wanting to begin drinking at 7:00 A.M.

As such, since I was not intending to have you take pictures of my children, nor was I expecting you to take pictures of them anyway, just because you felt like it, they were not exactly dressed for posterity.

I see in these pictures that Son Number One is wearing a red T-shirt with a logo on the front. We are not really into free corporate advertising around here. Also, Son Number One is highly afflicted with the Forced Smile Disorder, and in this picture he does not appear to be happy. He appears to be giving a stool sample.

Son Number Two’s smile is just fine, but he is inexplicably wearing what appears to be either a pajama shirt, or some sort of English sailor costume. He must have had a sweatshirt over it when we left the house for school, because I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have OK’d that even on a normal day, let alone picture day.

That brings us to Son Number Three. As you know, based on the printout on the front of his picture packet you sent to us in an unsolicited fashion, he is in kindergarten. I would assume that any school portrait photographer worth their weight in negatives would step up their game, so to speak, when it comes to the five-year-olds, but apparently that is not the case. You spent a significant amount of unsolicited money out of your own pocket to send me a glossy package of assorted photos of a boy wearing an Angry Birds T-shirt, smiling like someone just stepped on his foot, with FOOD STUCK TO HIS FACE in two different places. Not a super-high probability that I was going to rush those off to the grandparents.

So, to reiterate, I will not be purchasing, nor will I be returning any of the unsolicited, and might I just say, somewhat sub-par photos that you decided to send me.

I don’t want you to worry, though. I have a shredder here at home.

I’ll send you the bill.

You’re welcome.

All my best,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. If they took pictures of my kids with food on his face, those would be the ones I would want the most. Think wedding party.

  2. I can get a picture of one of my kids with food on his face literally any time of the day or night, so I don't really feel like paying for them. They will be at the wedding, of course.

  3. You go, Marc! Treat those pics like unsolicited magazines. I like it!

  4. We're starting a revolution over here, Jon!

  5. We went through this for 3 years at my son's daycare. We never paid for nor returned any of the unsolicited picture packages. Guess what Lifetouch did? Absolutely nothing!

  6. That is disappointing, Lenora. I was looking forward to a lengthy legal battle.

  7. I found your post from your link on my Patch post. Thanks for following up. I absolutely love what you have to say here, spot on. The following was a comment I posted on my own article asking some pertinent questions. I've included it below for you and your readers. You hit some of these, but that's ok. :)

    "Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful comments. For those of you supporting LifeTouch, I have a couple of follow up questions I think are pertinent.
    How much money does the PTA actually get? Why aren't we told the specifics? Did this go out to bid? Are there other companies who will give a better deal? Did anyone even check? Can anyone who donates money to PTA get access to my child? Are LifeTouch employees screened for criminal records? Did anyone think to ask? What about the photographer who worked with my child? The office staff? The owners? What's LifeTouche's privacy policy? Do they use my child in their promotional materials? His name is on some of the pictures, are those kept secure? What happens to the pictures they have on their computers? Are they kept indefinitely? Are personal details kept in association with those pictures? Is that information kept secure? What's their IT situation like? Have they ever been hacked? Why wasn't I notified of this picture day? Given a chance to opt out? Maybe just a chance to prepare my kid for a picture day? How long did this take out of the school day? What about their lessons for that day? Who supervised the children with the photographer? Did anyone? As you can see, this is about a lot more than a simple fundraiser for the school. There are very serious issues at stake here."

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  9. Thanks, Kjeld. All good points!

  10. I found this after a heated debate at home about what to do with the packages we received for our three sons as well. Thank you - this is exactly how I feel.

  11. Glad you liked it, Tough Bananas... if that is your real name... Thanks for reading!

  12. It is good to find out that I am not the only one who cannot stand this practice. Today I called the school to opt-out and was told that I couldn't. I would just have to send the pictures back.

  13. zhusky, opting out is not an option. Our new plan is to actually pay attention to when spring pictures day is and send the kids to school with colored hair and Sharpie-marker mustaches. Then when we get the unsolicited pictures, at least they will be worth sharing on the internet.