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Senior Yearbook Photos to be taken by Lifetouch ONLY

Allison LeBlanc , Aug 14, 2008; 03:59 p.m.

I am a portrait photographer and have taken senior pictures. Usually I just give a 4x5 print for the yearbook picture to be submitted to the school's yearbook adviser. Recently more and more seniors have told me that they are not ALLOWED to have anyone else take their portrait for the yearbook OTHER than Lifetouch, which obviously has some kind of contract with the school. Even if they have a contract, can Lifetouch say NO you cannot put that pic in the yearbook. It has to be taken by us. Even if the child hates it? This blows my mind. Please let me know if anyone knows away around this..... thanks... -Allison


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Matt Laur , Aug 14, 2008; 04:19 p.m.

Lifetouch (as photographers) can't say no. The people putting together the yearbook can. Why not talk to the faculty advisor in charge of the project? Don't ask high school kids to interpret the fine points of contract law, just ask the people putting together the book what the story is. They probably don't want one or two images in the book looking substantially different than the rest.

Robert Gulotta , Aug 14, 2008; 04:32 p.m.

Lifetouch does the yearbooks too in many cases, and from their perspective its a LOT easier to not have to scan a print, but to just use the already edited digital files.

I dislike them a bit, but I kinda understand that part of it because I create books for people too and hate having to use other pictures.

Tana D. , Aug 14, 2008; 04:33 p.m.

Matt is correct that it is up to the yearbook staff.

Where I live the portrait for the yearbook has to be formal - black drape for the ladies, tux for the guys. The photo can be done by anyone. Lifetouch is contracted by the schools to do the sports and prom photos. I would also advise getting in touch with the school directly. Talk to the yearbook staff about it.

April Hollingsworth , Aug 14, 2008; 04:43 p.m.

Yes, that's how it is. They have a contract. If the school has agree to those terms... It's the school's yearbook. I think it is a fine idea because you don't want a bunch of different types of backrounds for those pictures. The yearbook will look more uniform with photos from the same company. That's not to say that I don't hate that lifetouch has the monopoly. But us independent photographers still can offer way more than lifetouch can when it comes to non-yearbook senior portraits. Don't forget, lifetouch won't come to your favorite park, won't go to a second location. Lifetouch has so many restrictions...only 1 pose per package.. 2 pose max. and things such as that. We can offer more personalized packages.

Rick Gerbehy , Aug 14, 2008; 05:32 p.m.

Whenever there is an exclusive clause, usually there is a percentage of the sales rebated to either the school..(or sometimes to the advisor) That's OK if everyone knows the details. I would not hesitate to question the policy and the contract details with the Board of Ed or school principal.

David Haas , Aug 14, 2008; 07:57 p.m.

Having run into Lifetouch's exclusivity contract - I can tell you from experience how it works.

Lifetouch is the only photography company allowed to do "school photos" of the school that signs with them. The school can contract other photographers to do events, special things, and "artist" photos, but not "school" photos. Lifetouch also has a yearbook division, which I believe they purchased from Josten's (the ring company).

The yearbook division (when I worked with them as Josten's) would accept photos from the school's yearbook staff and print the books. Now that Lifetouch owns the yearbook division too, my guess is that they are also doing the setup and design of the books for the school, since school budgets are tight and yearbook production takes a lot of time and effort. Since they hold both contracts, it's pretty simple for them to say - "We'll only accept photos that we took for formals, and only accept photos from the school for event's and activities."

Lifetouch is definitely the 800 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to school photography. They go out and advertise for photographers on Craigslist (paying a whooping $12.00 an hour) and end up hiring a lot of college kids or stay at home moms / dads (nothing against any of those groups). Lifetouch gets in with the school to print the yearbook and do the photos as a package deal. The local average cost for a Lifetouch produced yearbook is now right around $40.00 plus the pictures that you purchase from them (about $60.00 on average). The school most of the time gets nothing from them, except cute little kids id cards and doesn't have to pay for photography and yearbook production.

Allison - Try to turn this to your advantage. Most of the time the kids are not obligated to buy the Lifetouch packages (even to get their photo in the yearbook.) Offer some kind of deal - better than the Lifetouch ones, which isn't too hard since they do the cookie cutter approach to photos.

Sorry for the long post, but this is a sore spot with me, since I'm a pro photographer and have kids...


Craig Gillette , Aug 14, 2008; 10:03 p.m.

There is no way around it. Same with our district. There is a contracted photographer for school pictures/yearbooks at certain grade levels and a different source for the others. A number of the schools that were allowed to make their own yearbook arrangements in the past (lower grades) are now required to use the contracted sources and aren't happy. Nor are the businesses that used to be the contracted source and had the same extra access to the student body.

Outside of the contract obligated images, there is no reason you can't compete for any of the other photographic business from individual students. If you have competitive prices and quality, you should be able to compete as the "contract" photographer they used to have coasted on the (not really) captive market and wasn't that great a deal. We went elsewhere.

When you get into doing business with government agencies, they have a lot less flexibility in determining how contracts are awarded. Some companies do very well at working within the system for that business.

Sam Ellis , Aug 14, 2008; 11:52 p.m.

Each school's contract may be different, but as the yearbook advisor at my school I do not require senior portraits to be taken by Lifetouch. The underclass photos, yes, but nobody has ever asked to submit outside photos for underclassmen before.

There are a couple of reasons that schools make one company an exclusive senior photographer. One is the kickback they get...I mean commission. Contary to what someone else said, that commision can be pretty substantial, well into the thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars for a large district. This includes underclassmen, prom, homecoming, sports, etc.

Another reason is the simplicity of getting the photos on one disc from one company. It's a pain to get seniors to turn in their portraits. Several are left out because they miss the deadline. Lifetouch mails home information to every senior with an appointment time. They know when our deadline is and make an effort to get everyone photographed in time to make their selections to meet the deadline. For our underclassmen pages, I get the disc from Lifetouch and then mail it right to Jostens to be uploaded into their system. Names are automatically associated with each photos. Seniors I upload and place individually. We use an online program for page design.

A third reason is the uniform look on the printed page. Almost every Lifetouch portrait is uniform in dimension, size of the face, amount of background showing, lighting, color of the background, etc. That's because they have a formula that the photographers can't mess with. When you have everyone looking the same on the page, it's a better looking design, there's uniformity. We have had some pretty sad looking senior portraits taken by so-called professional photographers. They were really crappy and I had to ask if there were better ones they could submit. I'm tempted to black-list them from submitting photos for our book because they are that bad (poor exposure, poor posing, fuzzy).

If I wasn't a photographer, I would probably require Lifetouch to do all our senior portraits. They do have cheap enough packages that for $45 you get your two yearbook poses- formal and casual. However, I believe in the free-market approach and am friends with several of the local senior photographers. I know their work is far superior to the Lifetouch photos and I let the parents make the decision.

I don't believe Lifetouch can say that they are the only photographer who can submit photos, I think the school makes the deciscion based on the factors above.

Also, Jostens is doing fine. They have a strong yearbook division as well as the rings and graduation supplies (cap, gown, trinkets). Lifetouch didn't buy Jostens, MAYBE their photography division, but not their yearbook division. I have the Lifetouch yearbook rep on my back to switch from Jostens every couple months.

One last thing, Lifetouch DOES go to the local park, DOES do more than one pose per package, and does the creative photography such as with the kid's car or sports equipment. Naturally, this costs more, but it can be done. Some offices may not have people capable of doing location photography, but I bet they offer it anyway.

Talk to the yearbook advisor and the principal. Schools are cash-strapped, do you offer them anything? Do you advertise in their yearbook? Sports programs? Book covers?


David Haas , Aug 15, 2008; 04:54 a.m.

Sam -

Thanks for the clarification on the ownership of Josten's / Lifetouch. My source (one of the local schools) must have had it wrong.

You are correct about the commission being quite high. As Craig pointed out, some companies are very good about dealing with Government contracting and LifeTouch is one of them.

As for Lifetouch going to the park, I do know that they have different levels of studios and I'm guessing service. I was talking with one of their photoshop (graphic designers) the other day - he works exclusively with their higher end studios. So those are probably the ones that will go the park, do multiple settings, etc...


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