Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Picture's Worth A Thousand ... Dollars

I made a spur of the moment decision today, the kind of decision that can only be made that way because any forethought would cause me to shrink back in horror. I took the kids for portraits again.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. Didn't you just do those? Wasn't there a blog entry bemoaning how much work taking kids for professional pictures is? (If there wasn't, there should have been.) Didn't your brother Tim just barely recover from the last time?

Well, that all might be true. But as it turns out, I think pictures of my kids might be one of the few things we can spend money on right now and in 20 years not think of it as money wasted. And the kids are so darn cute that I almost can't help myself. Plus, Darcey has so many cute clothes that I feel like I need to document them, she wears them for such a short amount of time. The final straw was a new portrait studio that just opened nearby which was just begging to be tried. (Their introductory offer was so cheap that it did seem like begging. It was almost embarrassing.)

The place everyone around here goes for kids photos is Kiddie Kandids in the University Mall. The have the corner on the market, and you know that with the sheer volume of children in this valley, it's a large market. Usually they draw you in with a ultra-cheap or free portrait, with the purchase of so many other portraits that ends up being around $75ish. And then you can't leave without buying the CD with all of the photos that you couldn't afford on it. The last time I went in was for Darcey's newborn pictures. and I got something like 8ish sheets and the CD for something around $100. I know my lack of specificity is going to seriously undermine my forthcoming allegation that this new place is a better deal, but lets just go with this, shall we?

Portrait Impressions is in the Riverwoods shopping center, and the offer they've been touting was the typical $9.99 for a 10x13, two 8x10's, 4 5x7's, and a pile of wallets. While Ryan and I were out today looking at kitchen cabinets, I swung in there and made an appointment for 4:30 this afternoon. That's when the spending began.

Let's count the total cost of the $9.99 photos.

First I went to Gymboree and got Darcey a cute olive-green dress, and a denim jumper. Total cost: $34.91, plus some serious guilt because I'm not used to spending so much money on clothes.

Next I went home and checked the kids closets for shirts that might match the new olive green dress. They don't have anything, so we went to Target to get a new shirt for each boy. Brad and Noah are so excited by all of the choices that they beg me for more clothes, and end up with three shirts a piece. Zack doesn't care, so he just gets the one. Darcey gets a cream top to go under the new jumper. They were starting to lose it at this point so I didn't get a chance to look for a cute headband to match the cute new clothes, so we'll just have to live with the cute old ones which, while cute, are starting to get a little hackneyed. How often can a girl wear the same headband, after all? The boys had been bribed to be good through the Target trip, with the promise of their choice of a pack of baseball cards or a piece of candy that wouldn't stain or turn their mouth a color. Brad got the baseball cards, Noah waffled for a while before deciding on Sour Spray, and Zack chose Swedish Fish. Total cost, after using the remaining $2.26 on two old gift cards from Tim: $78.11.

Then on to Portrait Impressions. The thing that makes them different from Kiddie Kandids is that they take an astounding 40-60 pictures! This is amazing because Kiddie Kandids only takes 6 or 8, I can't remember which. But we are talking 10 times that amount. I got there early to feed Darcey and get everyone dressed. When our time came, we filed into the room, and here's a cool thing - we not only got a camera person, but there was a second person to make the kids laugh, help with props, etc.

The picture taking seemed like it would never end, which is great for a mother who wants options, but not so great for a bunch of kids who get bored pretty quick. We got four different backgrounds and every conceivable combination of kids. I think they might have grabbed a kid from the room next to us, just to give us more variety. The boys wore two different outfits, Darcey wore three (although I think I brought 5 to choose from, just in case). And even though while I watched my older boys with their fake, trying-to-smile smiles and thought that there was no way these were ever going to turn out, they did.

In the end, I had 101 photos to choose from. Now here's where the racket starts, and what I thought people would like to know about Portrait Impressions. They sit you down in front of the giant plasma computer screen and start going through the pictures. First they do it in groups of three, asking you to choose which one or ones you like best. So that narrowed my selection down to a mere 39 photos. And the employee says totally seriously, "Your portrait collection of 39 poses will be $698 and comes with a free CD and four free 10x13's." I can barely type that without laughing. So, okay, they've got to try or else they wouldn't be good business people, but come on, who buys the first thing they offer?

I tell her that that is too much for me, and so now we go back and go through them a second time, this time winnowing out the duplicate poses. I get down to 24 pictures, and $400. I tell her, "This may not be the right thing to say, but I'm willing to spend about a hundred bucks on this, how many poses is that?" This might be a new company, but they must have trained her well, because without pausing she says that the most popular portrait collection is 12 poses for $198, plus you still get all the free stuff.

Now, I can definitely hold my own with pushy salespeople. I know what I want to spend, and I'm not going to get talked into doubling my budget. But you have to have a heart of steel to not feel guilty as you go through the pictures over and over, as the salesperson crows about how beautiful your children are, and you have to tell her, no, in fact, I'm not buying that picture. Over and over I felt like I was taking these gorgeous photos and throwing them in the trash. I somehow could not remind myself that I was buying the cd, I was going to get all of these photos anyhow.

I did it, though, I pulled together that backbone of mine and the two of us trashed one picture after another and whittled it down to 7 poses. I was trying to pick the last one to toss (aiming for $100 still and 6 would have done it) when Darcey, who was sitting on my lap, pooped so violently that I ended up with a lapful of poop. And that kind of made my decision for me - we'll take all 7. I grabbed a blanket and wrapped her bottom half in it to contain the dripping mess while the salesperson rung me up. Then Darcey and I waddled off to the bathroom to change her diaper. It is just slightly ironic that the one blowout diaper that doesn't get a drop on her clothing happens to be the only time I had four other outfits to put her in. Amazing how that happens.

While we're in the bathroom, I realized that each pose comes with three sheets, an 8x10, two 5x7s, and 8 wallets. With 7 poses, that was so stinking many wallet size photos that I'd have one to give to every resident of Malaysia, which I'm sure they would have been thrilled by. So I asked the salesperson to give us an extra sheet of 5x7's instead of the wallets, which she was happy to do.

Total cost for the pictures, a total of 31 sheets of 8 poses plus the CD: $135

Finally, we had time to kill (about 15 minutes) until the pictures were ready to be picked up, so we headed across the parking lot to Tomasso's Italian Ice. Noah got a lime ice, Brad and Zack both got soft serve cones. Total cost: $5.31

So we left the house to start this trip at 3:00 and got home at 7:00. The kids got ice cream for dinner and frozen pancakes at home for dessert. But they were fairly well behaved the entire time, and I got a ton of great pictures out of it. I wasn't crazy about the company's sales tactics, but they are such geniuses to make me go through the photos again and again because I loved them more each time, so I can't begrudge them their sales genius. Now that I know the system, I'll go back ready to mentally choose the one (or 4, or 6) photos that I have to have, and not worry about the rest. But I will go back, because I love having these pictures to look back on, because in the picture you can't see that Zacky had, five minutes previous, been pointing a lego gun at everyone in the waiting room. It's like looking at them when they are sleeping - when they are so perfect looking, you can't help but forgive them of anything they've ever done, and just think of them as angels.

Cost of $9.99 pictures: $253.33
Pictures of my perfect children: Priceless


Anonymous said...

Priceless is right. I use to go to Wards for the 1 cheap 8x10 or 5x7 offer and leave with that only. The salesperson used the line that we are just going to throw these others away. Sounds heartless but I had to stick to my guns.
I wish I had gone more often for professional photos.

Can't wait to see them. Love, Mom

Ryan said...

This post is a complete tease...where are the pictures? C'mon, I know you got a whole disc full of these you can post.
And please, please, please do a complete post with all of Noah's "smiles" where his expression looks like he's ill or has just been told some horrible news.
"Smile for the camera...oh, by the way, your dog just died.... NOW SMILE!!!!!"