Why are school photos so expensive?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

It's school photo time, and the kids are excited.

Not shy of having the spotlight shone on them, my children are keen to pose. On top of this, it's our youngest child's first year at school, so the idea of having a sibling photo taken has the kids literally jumping for joy.

My bank account, however, is not excited.

A very modest selection of photos – of each of our two children individually and a basic pack of sibling shots – is setting me back $110.

Some parents tell me they prefer to go with the most basic option, which is just one group photo of the class. This in itself would be $50 for two children; add another $30 for one sibling photo, and we're already at $80.

Lots of school photo companies seem to insist that an individual or class photo option must be purchased before you're 'allowed' to order a sibling photo.

Is the cost of school photos justified?

It seems that school photography is big business these days.

A friend who used to work for a school photography company assures me, though, that no one's making their fortune on this.


She explained the sheer amount of work involved, from the day of photo-taking (which could involve photographing anywhere from 200 to 1200 students) to the lengthy editing process. Printing costs also aren't cheap. And, of course, once all the shots are printed, they have to be checked, sorted and double-checked so that each family receives the images they ordered.

When it's put that way, I feel a little miserly for questioning the cost.

Still, I'm not alone. Lots of parents are sick of the extra cost, particularly in an era where paying for a formal, traditional style photo seems a bit dated.

"They are too expensive and I'm not a fan of portrait type photos," a mum of four tells me.

Another says, "I hate them, but I didn't do it one year and my kids hated it when others got theirs and they didn't ... so now we just get them."

One mum tells me that she wishes the ordering options were more flexible. "I just want one class photo and one individual photo, not a package of 7,000 photos that is only $5 cheaper than the deluxe 20,000 photo pack," she half jokes.

A mum of three says, "I always complain about the cost but I buy them for memory keeping reasons."

Or is it worth paying for the memories?

And it's this that gets us. Because really, we're paying not just for stock standard photo of our kids in school uniform against a lame background, we're paying for the memories.

Us parents love looking back over this record of our children growing through their school years, the kids love looking back at their smaller selves and friends, and grandparents love receiving an updated photo each year.

As one mum of two points out, "In the grand scheme of things I go out for lunch and spend $20-30 and don't even blink an eye. So I really don't think I should be complaining about spending $50 for a school photo of my child that will last forever and be a nice memory. It's all about priorities."

Another mum tells me, "I love them, even if they are crappy shots. It's a moment in time."

And, while many of us pay the money despite our hesitation and silent annoyance, one friend reminds me that there's actually a really lovely side to school photo time.

"I like the excitement of 'photo day' and the fact that it's an annual tradition. I like the anticipation of waiting to see the photos. It's nice having those headshots, because I can so directly compare the kids' growth. My kids love the family photo, and I love getting it."

Ultimately, I'm going back to the fact that my kids are really excited about the chance to have a record of the first year they're both at school.

Sorry, bank account, we have to take this one for the team.