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Portrait Innovations

I mentioned in a previous post that I surprised Erin with pictures from Portrait Innovations of Rachel, Colin and (a few) of myself.  This generated more comments than 99% of my posts receive (read that as I received one comment).  Because both Erin and I have gone separately and had great experiences with the company, I figured I would spend a post explaining how it works, what's different from Sears and a professional photographer, and why I like them.

Great Shots

Erin and I went to Sears a LOT when Rachel was born.  We went every month to track her growth.  So far Colin's on an every 3 months cycle (second kid, life sucks, get over it and quit whining to me about being "fair").  One of the things with Sears that kind of bugged me was the set positions.  You know, laying on the floor with head propped on arms, sitting on stool cross legged.  While I think having some set poses are a good idea, at both Sears we've used, it's too extreme.  The photographer won't take the picture until everyone is in position.

There were times where Rachel would run to the side, grab some random prop, come back to the center of the picture and gaze at it lovingly.  Unfortunately it wasn't on the pose sheet, so the photographer never took a photo of it, just waited until it was gone.  While we were incredibly happy with our Sears experiences, I believe the fact that I might be on the floor with Rachel tickling me, laughing and happy, is worth taking a picture;  Sears doesn't always agree.  So we'd end up with about 30 picture or so to choose from, which meant we had fewer "amazing" shots.

I'll digress for a minute.  As an amateur digital picture taker, I believe that 5% of the pictures we take are amazing, 10% are great, 25% are cute and good, while the rest are crap.  If you do the math it means 5 pictures out of every 100 are worth printing and sharing.  I've found that having a huge volume of photos of one event (I'm known to take about 250 - 300 pictures a day when vacationing) guarantees I can find a few I like.

While it seems that Portrait Innovations (PI from now on...  I'm lazy) must have some set poses, they seem very willing to stray from that.  They are also willing to take lots and lots of pictures to get just the right one.

For example, Colin wasn't being very agreeable that day (neither was Rachel actually, don't bring the kids right after nap time).  So we saw a bunch of pictures like this on the left.

But they just shot and shot and shot.  Another  woman came in to help at some points, and you come out with pictures like this on the right.  At the beginning our photographer said we'd get about 90 photos to choose from, we ended up with 132.

Then Portrait Innovations walks you through each photo, comparing three at a time to choose a first rough batch, then you whittle it down to the 8 to 13 pictures you like.  This is something our professional photographer, Mark Gregory (awesome guy, I'd highly recommend him) did as well, and it was incredibly helpful.  While Mark projected the pictures on a big movie screen and we sat in plush, leather seats sipping coke (or was it water), we only get plastic chairs at PI, though they do have a bunch of 60 inch (or so) plasma screens, which do a great job.

When it comes down to it, getting the best photos it what matters most to me.  While Mark Gregory got better photos of Erin, Rachel and I, PI really comes in a close second.

Great Price

As sad as it is to say, money's kind of important to me.  I think family portraits are important for a family and, when done well, become great conversation starters and express to strangers the type of family that we are.  When it comes down to it though, posed family portraits (while these are officially "professional" I only count Mark Gregory as the professional photos) are an extravagance that 99.9% of the world will never have.  It just about killed me when I saw we were spending over $3,000 for the book and photo montage Mark Gregory made for us.  While it's great, I don't have the photos online to share, and I'll never have the photos he took that we didn't purchase.  So, the only way you'll see them is to come to our house, which happens less often than you'd think. . .  Just ask my friend Melissa.

Sears has price beat, hands down.  We can order the top 5 or 6 photos we want and be out of there spending about $45 to $55 total.  That price has gone up since they now let you purchase royalty-free, full-size versions of all photos on CD.  So we always get some photos and the CD, spending about $120 total.  What annoys me about Sears is that while sheets are about $6 each, that's only if you decide right after the session.  So, if Rachel is overly cranky and I choose a bad picture, getting a new photo costs a $15 order fee plus about $12 per sheet.  Though with the CD this is no longer a problem.

 PI though comes in a very close second.  Both time's we have gone they've had a sale where you get three sheets of a 8 different shots, three 11x13 collages and a CD of thumbnails of the session (Looking the larger files are encrypted and I don't think you can just print them out without returning to the store) for about $130.  They also have a get a gagillion sheets of one shot for $10.  Doing the math (though I don't think the CD or collage is included) I could get 10 shots with a bunch of wallets, 5x7's and 8x10's for $100, which isn't bad at all.


In this area, all of the photographers were about the same.  Mark Gregory was awesome at getting Rachel to warm up to him (she's good with strangers, but more reserved with men in general).  He gave us hours (I think we were there 2 1/2 - 3 hours for the shoot) and came up with some amazing shots.  He was funny, performed magic for Rachel, and in general had her laughing.

Sears has always had female photographers, and they've always been incredibly nice.  I have liked that at Sears we had the same three photographers for the two years we went there.  They remembered us, and Rachel warmed up to them quickly.

PI also did a great job.  We started taking photos and I was nervous Rachel was never going to smile.  But soon Rachel was joking and teasing along with our photographer.  So, from my experience, all of these photo places do a great job of hiring kind and personable talent.  If you're going some place where you don't really like the photographer, move on.

The Shoot

So, down to the shoot.  Here's how it worked at PI.

We went into the store, told them our name, and went over to the bathroom to change clothes.  We then went over to the portrait room.  She asked why kind of back drops I wanted, but I had no idea.  So she picked burgundy for the ones in our jerseys (in retrospect white would have been better since the Redskins jerseys we had were burgundy), white and black.

She asked why kinds of photos I want, and then we began shooting Rachel and Colin.  I was impressed that the photographer used the camera free form, and moved all around the room.  At Sears the camera is mounted on a tripod, ensuring that the shots are straight.  While almost all of the PI photos ended up rotated a little bit in some way, I was happier than there were pictures from all kinds of angles.

After about an hour or an hour and a half (and one outfit change to our jerseys) we were done.  Rachel and I played at a Lego table while we were waiting for the photos to download to the computer and they made some basic photo montages, which took about 10 minutes or so (I'm going to marry the person - guy or girl - who figures out how to instantly copy photos form a card to the computer).

I headed over to pick photos.  This went somewhat quicker than it should since I was already incredibly late for picking up Erin.  It still took about 20 minutes or so.  We went through each pose, three at a time.  I picked my favorite one or two of each set.  Then we went through those final pictures three at a time, choosing my favorite one or two from that list.

This left me with about 13 photos, though I was keeping it to 8 or 10 for cost (I preferred to pay $130, not $165 for 13).  The photographer made some suggestions, which helped me pick a photo I wasn't completely in love with, but I've found is Erin's favorite.

Rachel and I then went and got ice cream and watched a karate demonstration over snow cones while they developed the photos.  Yep, they do all the developing in house on a professional printer, so it comes out looking like you'd sent them off to be printed.  Within 20 minutes we got to walk out with our CD and photos.

While Sears offers this, the photo quality hasn't been as good as when you send it off, and they charge more for the service.  If you couldn't tell already I'd definitely recommend Portrait Innovations.

This was much longer than I'd expected.  Sorry about that.  But it was a great excuse to post a ton of pictures of my kids.



Missa said…
uhhh, I promise, we WILL come to the house someday this Fall. You just have to corner John next week about it!! LOL!
Cindy said…
I've heard great things about Portrait Innovations - one opened up here not too long ago. But also some not great things - had 2 people that went there and had a bad experience. Dust spots on the pictures and not touching up the pictures like they said they were going to do.

We went to JC Penney based on everyone raving about the pictures. The only downside - it takes 2 weeks to get the pictures.

I was happy with JC Penney, but it was like your experience with Sears - camera is mounted, and they seem to have a "Set" of poses that they like to get.

I'd love to see your professional pictures. I love looking at pictures like that - they have them hanging in the delivery ward at the hospital and also at my Ped. office.
Anonymous said…
My family went to a PI in Fairview Heights, IL today. Despite a 3PM appt, PI was running about 45 mins behind schedule - probably not unexpected, given the holiday season, but frustrating. But the photographer and her assistant were very patient, did a great job of working w/ the kids, ages 2 and 4 1/2. Took lots of shots. Definitely had much better lighting equipment and props than Sears and JCP. The review/ordering process was also better. Most of the shots were much better than any other budget studios we've been to. Definitely more expensive, but the final results were great, so you get what you pay for. We'd go again.
Jenn said…
I've used PI twice and loved the pictures the both time. While I didn't seem to have as easy a time as you described (long waits, not time for clothing changes), the pictures were phenomenal. Much better than Sears or Sadies. I'd recommend them highly, but call early to get one of the first appointment of the day. By 10:00 on Sunday, they were already 30 minutes behind. Last year, I waited almost an hour past my appointment time.
Tom said…
To follow-up with both anonymous and Jenn about the wait time, I definitely want to follow up. I and my wife initially went to PI during the week. We did schedule an appointment with the one in Leesburg for a Saturday and we did have to wait about half an hour. I attribute that partly to the Christmas rush, but I do think that based on your comments as well, we'll only be going back on a week day.
Anonymous said…
Great article comparing the different photography services.

I have also gone to Sears and PI.

I agree with you that it seems better that at PI, the photographer holds the camera. The downside of PI is that you don't get high res photos on CD and don't get print rights for the photos.

I thought that the photo quality turned out better than Flash digial portraits (where the photographer also holds the camera).

The print quality seemed pretty similar between PI and Sears. I had a lot of problems with Flash digital portraits and had to have them redo my pictures a couple of times. (pictures printed with toner level too low + colors were off).
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the info. I used Pennie's, spent over $100 and then found out that for $100 you can buy all the pics on CD. It sounds like they are high resolution and you get reprint rights. A friend went to PI and told me that she got a CD, but it sounds like it is low resolution. Thanks for clearing it up.
Anonymous said…
We only us 'PI' for our photos now. At our location, if you purchase enough sheets (not sure what the least amount would be--we ended up buying right at 27 sheets & 60 Christmas cards) you get the CD with every photo taken that day (the good & not so good). The photos are 'full size' and there is no copyright. I am able to touch up and print any photo on the CD. We were also told this by our photographer.
At least to us, PI is the best hands down.

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