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School photos are nothing to smile about

School photos are nothing to smile about

It’s school photos time! Prepare to draw your wallets at dawn, people. They’ll shoot first and stab you later.

The ‘Basic’ package of school photos at our primary school costs the equivalent of a small car. It also contains at least 117 copies of the exact same image. Just in case every grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin and neighbour requires a photo of your child in their school uniform.

Same photo, different decade

Of course, the photo of your kid that will be sent out to everyone you know is the exact same photo you have in your Filofax from when you were a kid. Same strange, blue, watercoloury background, only ever found in the back of school photos and on public transport seating. Same forced smile. Same folded hands. Same complicated hairstyle that totally represents the way your child dresses for school every day. School photos haven’t changed one bit in decades.

School photos haven’t changed one bit in decades.

Which is interesting, considering that school photos used to pretty much be the only photo a family had of their kids. This is back when getting any kind of photo was complicated. You can imagine that they were treasured and important back then.

It’s quite amazing that the school photo industry continues to thrive, despite the fact that every kid has had roughly a million portraits taken per annum since birth. Portraits that cost 5c per copy at Officeworks. Of course, these aren’t professionally taken. Is it the professionally taken bit that means we all shell out the equivalent of a European holiday for a single image of our child?

School photos - Christian Brothers

Christian Brothers, Bundaberg, class photograph, 1948. Thrilled to be here.

Premium upgrade for… even more of the same photo

I can see I’m selling it for you. I know you getting worried that the Basic package just won’t be enough for your school photo needs. If you have more than 117 friends wanting a picture of your child, you could upgrade to the premium package for an additional year’s worth of rent. You’ll get double the photos and access to a digital download of the exact same photo. Presumably for global distribution purposes.

Related: What makes kids happy at school


There are a few other packages between “basic” and “premium”, consisting of random assorted “wallet-size”, “frame-size”, “wall-size” and “mural-size” offerings. I can’t bear to look at these. It’s just too torturous to think of someone sitting there thinking, “If I get the Basic, there won’t be enough wallet-size photos for all six parents; but if we go premium we’ll have too many, plus there isn’t enough frame-size photos for grandparents, so let’s see what other options they have…”

School photos - 1962

Levin School Photo, 1962. The hair bows fly free on photo day.

Sibling warfare

Of course, the granny that has the Siblings photo wins that particular war. Always back-to-back if there is two of you; side-by-side with the tallest in the middle if there is three; two in front, others behind if four or more. Getting the Siblings photo used to be chaos every single photo day. Is it still like that, do you think?

Nobody knows if Mum signed up for a Siblings shot or not.

The call goes out to every classroom that only those who are getting a Siblings photo should report to the COLA. Every kid looks at every other kid. Nobody knows if Mum signed up for a Siblings shot or not. Every kid races out of the classroom to consult their siblings, who are just as in the dark.

The photographer starts the gruelling process of sorting out the Siblings Whose Parents Love Them Enough To Get A Siblings Photo over here; all Other Unloved Siblings need to return to class. Of course, half the Siblings Whose Parents Love Them get scooped up with the Unloved and sail back into class. And so, the collection of Siblings process begins all over again. Of course, the whole messy ordeal is worth it for the photographer as he knows he’s making an extra $9,851 per Siblings photo. 

Francis De Sales Primary School 1974 Year 5-6

Francis De Sales Primary School 1974 Year 5-6. School uniforms are the other thing that haven’t changed in decades…

Would you like Extras with that?

Which brings me to the “Extras” column. Calendars, coffee mugs, key rings, gift tags, bookmarks, fridge magnets and (new line this year) door hangers. What now? I’m hoping the front of the door hanger has the kid’s portrait with “The doctor will see you now” on the front next to their photo, and the back of the door hanger it says, “Hiding inside in shame.”

Please, tell me, what do people do with all the portrait photo merch? Are there really homes out there with the school photo on the wall, fridge, keys, wallet and door handle? Are there really people out there who go “ooh, goodie, a Janet’s kids 2019 fridge magnet to go next to the Janet’s kids 2018 fridge magnet”? I don’t know these people. I picture grannies in retirement villages one-upping each other: I see your gift tag and I’ll raise you a bookmark.

Please, tell me, what do people do with all the portrait photo merch?

Interestingly, the “Extras” are only available with certain packages. They are the ultimate “exclusive upgrade” when you spend a certain amount of dosh. So, you can’t get a $89 bookmark if you haven’t already paid off Mexico’s national debt.

School photos - Vic circa 1950s

Circa 1940s girls’ school class photo by photographer Ernest Bugg. Mr Bugg took school photos for 34 years. #blessed

Group only humiliation

Of course, you could always opt for the “group photo only” package. The one hidden way down on the bottom of the form, written in small print. It’ll still cost you $1,028 per print to have a record of your kid’s class forevermore, but at least you can dodge the disappointment of ordering 117 portrait photos of your kid looking like this:

School photos - me in Year 8

Me in Year 8. Proof that despite popular opinion, the years are often kind to us.

Besides, the class photo is a lovely keepsake. Nothing brings back names and memories like a quick glance at your Grade Five class pic. Absolutely essential for scanning and putting up on Facebook in 30 years time, tagging everyone in it and saying in allcaps, “OMG, LOOK AT BRON’S HILARIOUS HAIR!!!!!!!” 


Do you ever look at your old school photos?

Photo images courtesy of State Library of Queensland: 1, 2, 3; courtesy of State Library Victoria 4, 5; Author school photo: Supplied.


School photos - nothing has changed in 100 years except the price #school #schoolphotos #parenting


Wednesday 13th of March 2019

Totally not sold on the whole idea, you've done your job ;-) So tell me did you tell your kids, nope, not buying any. Certain I would of, but then I'm a tightwad. Only one I'd want anyway is a sibling photo and I could do that myself. So yeah surprised they are still in business.

As for uniforms was thinking that last week. We spent a day at a school museum last week, dressed up as 1930 school kids, after studying photos and heading off the the opshops for clothes to match, I realised all the school uniforms would have fit the bill. Same collars, waists etc

Bron Maxabella

Wednesday 13th of March 2019

The uniforms are exactly the same as the ones I wore in the 1970s. It's quite ridiculous. Our school has introduced a new uniform though - 'gender neutral' with a shirt, skirt, shorts, all interchangeable. I like it.

We usually just get the class photo and skip the rest. For some reason last year I got Lottie's "Basic" package and I still haven't figured out what to do with all the photos!

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