Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sears Portrait Fiasco

If you know me well, and I think you do, you know that I really don't like mall studio photographers. Sure their cheap, but the process is frustrating because the people care more about selling pictures, no matter what they look like, than the fine art of photography. One too many bad experiences at these types of places is what led me to start taking pictures myself when Emma was a baby. With enough time and patience, I do get great photos of my own kids and don't have to waste my time in the studio. I print the pictures affordably at Costco and everyone is happy. It's when I have to put my children in a picture with other children that my job gets very, very tricky. Suddenly mommy is divided with photographer and getting their attention is so hard.

My sister and I attempted pictures of our four children together earlier in the fall. It was a miserable failure because the kids were crabby and the lighting outside was very bad because it took us too long to get them ready. All the pictures were terrible of the foursome and we vowed to try again, earlier in the day with a better backdrop. Then, I got a coupon in the mail from Sears Portrait Studio for $4.99 for 36 pictures including a 10x13", 8x10" and a bunch of wallets -- perfect for splitting up amongst our extended family. Figuring there was no way I could even print the pictures that cheap if I took them myself, plus the alluring idea that we would be in a studio with good lighting, my sister and I decided to take the kids there.

My cheapskate sister and myself were very upfront with the "photographer" and told her that we were planning on buying only one pose and using the $4.99 coupon. "Is there a sitting fee?" We asked. "No, no sitting fee, now let's take pictures. I am going to do 6-8 poses of the children." Well, she did 3 poses and the kids had had it. I've worked enough with kids to know that the first 15 minutes are the best and there is very little a mother can do to coax a grumpy toddler. The "photographer", who incidentally was wearing about a size 40FF black push-up bra under her stained and wrinkled, uniform white polo shirt, did not agree and kept pushing for more poses with our now screaming kids. The fact that I am annoyed with this photographer has little to do with the fact that we got to see way more of her black bra that we wanted to and more to do with her not listening to us when we said, "The kids are done. The kids are done. The kids are done" about 50 times. She wouldn't give up and I finally said, "We are done now," with authority in my non-confrontational voice and I started loading Mandy into the stroller. She was visibly frustrated because I assume her superiors require her to get a certain number of poses with the group and individual. Sorry, lady, but I am not going to buy any pictures from you of my children crying. I see that every day. I want the $4.99 deal, please, with smiling kids that we got half and hour ago. I didn't say that, because I am very nice. Too nice actually.

We waited our obligatory 15 minutes while the lady dragged and dropped photos into really ugly collages and turned the pictures black and white and other pretty cool options that I can do in my sleep with Photoshop. We sat down and looked through all of her creations and I even complimented her ability to capture the kids looking good. We had 2 poses we liked, each having their own issues, but all the children were looking in both of them. One of them had lighting issues and Benton's eye was a little droopy. The second pose, the one we ended up choosing, was really cute with all the kids looking and Benton and Emma were smiling while Nathaniel and Mandy looked pleasant. My only issue was that Emma's feet were completely cut off -- you know my problem with that kind of thing. I resolved myself that no one but me really cares.

We chose our pose, told the photographer for the 50th time that we wanted the one pose and here was the coupon for $4.99. That's it, now we need to get our children who are running and screaming up and down the hallway. The lady was visibly irritated and kept trying to upsale us -- adding on a proof sheet that included both poses we liked for only $14.99 more. My cheap sister and I are used to this kind of thing and continued to explain that we wanted this ONE pose for $4.99. The lady was frustrated and it was at this point I became convinced that she worked on commission. Perhaps if we would have purchased more, she would have had enough money to buy herself a white bra that fit and an iron to make herself more professional looking. Too bad for her, we only wanted to spend $4.99.

Finally she gave into us and said in a snotty voice, "You can add more pictures, but you cannot change this package once I order it." Her finger was poised to click the "order" button on the screen and my sister and I both agreed. Once the order was made she got up and made her way to the counter to take our money saying as she went, "Oh, and there is a $5 fee since you only chose one pose and you had more than 2 people in the photo." "WHAT!" My sister and I exclaimed in unison. The lady explained again about the $5 fee and it made even less sense the second time. She apologized for the extra fee in a rather patronizing voice, but there was nothing she could do. It was at this point that the older kids were running back and forth with toys and the babies were crying needing naps and food badly. I told the lady that I specifically asked about a sitting fee and there was not supposed to be one. There was supposedly nothing the lady could do and we exasperatedly paid the extra $5.

My sister and I are both non-confrontational introverts and were horrified that we didn't just walk out, refusing to pay the made-up fee. Our mother would have never stood for such a thing as a fee tacked on at the end when the coupon said nothing about it. The bottom line was that we got taken and unfortunately were unwilling to leave without the pictures. We spent over an hour at Sears, not to mention the time it took to get the children looking cute and perfect and for me to drive into Salem.

I've spent quite a lot of time now on the phone with Sears and online letting them know how I feel about their service and fees at the Portrait Center. While the customer service agent who I eventually talked to was sympathetic, I doubt whether any resolution will be made over $5. Because really, who cares about $5? I DO. To add insult to injury, the photos are not available for viewing online and we have to wait 2 weeks to get them. There is a glitch in their system and has been for 2 months. A very unhelpful person at Sears told me that she didn't know what they were doing about the problem.

Needless to say I won't be going back to Sears. I am certain now that no cheap coupon is worth the hassle. I love taking pictures, so I will do it myself from now on. And I will print them myself too. And if any of you want to skip the hassle of pushy mall photo studios, I will gladly take pictures for you too. No hidden fees, I promise. :)

And here is a picture of Mandy before we left for the Portrait Studio.


Dan & Hillary and little Russell said...

Ahhh!! Yes!! (chuckle, chuckle)... you have entered my world of 'photography' ... hence, no Christmas photo this year;-) If you want a picture next year, you're going to have to make one long road trip to CA!

(I really am sorry about the $5, though. I'm defintely learning to be 'mean Hillary' when it comes to these things but it is difficult when the charge has already been placed:-(

Lindsay said...

Oh. My. Goodness. That is just HORRIBLE! You know, I feel EXACTLY the same way about portrait stidios. I've had more than one bad experience at Penney's, and haven't been back since Anna turned 1. I have been tempted with those great coupons, too, though. This story just reinforced to is not worth it.

Grandma Sherri said...

This picture of Mandy is so Darling, Just a little Photo shop to take out the kitchen cabinets!
You know how I feel about photo studios- it was always a love- hate thing, and exasperation and tears were often a part. You would be so busy you wouldn't be able to handle it if people just had a few more $ to spare!

Ratzlaff Reflections said...

Yeah, you do a MUCH better job than them anyway. Sorry you had such a bad (but typical!) experience!!

Cathy said...

Did you HAVE to bring back those memories!...sounds like we've all had them, unfortunately!

Annie said...

GRRR! I went once for Eli's one year pics and never went back.

Kellie said...

I can so totally relate to your horror experience. I think the photos you take are fantastic and certainly much better then any "professional" Sears photography. But I know how tempting those $4.99 offers are. I've succumbed a few times myself in the lure of perfect lighting and backdrops. The awful to ok pictures of the kids just don't make up for the pretty lighting and background though. And a hidden $5 fee would really irk me too!

Shawna said...

I have gone to four 'studios' now with similar experiences. I just hope that with such a bad experience that when you look at the photo you did choose that you see the beautiful children and that you are not reliving the fiasco that it took to get it. I still fight it when I look at my pregnancy photos sometimes. It was a once in a lifetime thing for me and when I look at it now I want to be reminded of the gift God gave me and sometimes I find inner voice say "man that was a horrible experience" (The photo session(s) not the pregnancy!) *The one that is in my baby book happens to be one that Tawny took of me so there are good memories of the belly bump. :-)