Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tried It Tuesday - Portrait Innovations

I love pictures of my family. When my son was born almost 6 years ago, we were inundated with offers for free and inexpensive pictures. I took advantage of all the offers and tried out all of the local studios. It was great. I have an 8x10 from every month of his first year. After the first year, I toned it back a bit, going only every three months and then every six months. Now that he is in school, we go about once a year and get the school pictures.

I'm sure that many of the studios don't like me, I exercised amazing willpower...even though I would have loved to have bought them all, I usually stuck with the one or two sheets (one of which was generally free) or the cheap package. After all, aside from a few milestones, I was there only to get my 8x10. When it was time to get pictures for the family, I would sit down with my list of poses and figure out which coupon at which studio was the best.

None of the studios completely fit the bill for me. One studio offered a great package at a great price, but you had to make a second trip back to pick up the pictures. Many printed them on site (in an hour or less), but the price per sheet was crazy and unless you spent over $50, you had few options.

About a year ago, we found a great studio that was new to the area. Portrait Innovations.

They are a child-focused studio. The camera is not attached to a pole. The photographer is free to move around, allowing them to move closer to the child or find the right angle for the not always cooperative child. They have a number of employees on staff and there always seems to be an extra person that comes in to help pull the child's attention towards the camera and put a smile on their face.

The photographers are patient. I have never felt like my studio visit was rushed. They take the time to make sure they are going to get pictures I am going to love. With each pose, they seem to take three pictures in quick succession, to help improve the opportunity to get just the right expression. (a great help if you have a blinker)

After taking a series of pictures, the photographer will inquire, are there any poses that you wanted that I didn't get. They take a nice mix of close-ups and full body shots. They have a variety of backdrops, but keep it simple. You are welcome to bring a change of clothes for the children and they have a changing room in addition to the bathrooms, to facilitate this process.

The process for reviewing the pictures is great. They bring up the pictures three at a time (a perfect fit for the three quick succession pictures of each pose). You choose your favorite(s) from the group and the ones you like are put in your cart. After working through your pictures (I had 82 when I took my daughter this weekend), they go into their sales pitch. But, I have never felt like it was high pressure - I respect that. They show you different special effects - including montages, sepia, b&w, etc. They are randomly checked afterwards, so even if you indicate no interest, they will still work through building each sample for you.

Then, they tell you how much it would cost to get 3 pictures of each pose you selected as favorites. Of course, I had something like 27 this last time after I narrowed down from 82, the number was ridiculous and I joked with the photographer that the pictures might be "only" $400-something, but the wing I would have to put on my house to display them all would be the problem.

This is where they could use an improvement to their software. Clearly, you need to narrow down to one or a handful of poses that you would like to purchase. Unlike the beginning where the software will automatically put the three pictures up on the screen, the photographer now has to use the effects page to bring up each pose as a bigger picture so you can view them side by side to choose your favorites. They can typically pull up three at a time for you to compare. Then, when you want to "eliminate" some of the choices, they have to go back to the other screen to remove them from your selection. There is a lot of back and forth. The company could improve the software to make this a quicker, smoother process.

As you work through this narrowing down process, the photographer will periodically provide you with an updated cost to get the poses that you have left. Over a certain number of poses threshold, they offer a free cd with your pictures. The files on the disk are in their proprietary software and can only be used for reprints at the studio. They do provide a small thumbnail type file, but we tried to use one for the wallpaper on our computer and it was fuzzy. This is however the only way to keep a file copy of your pictures for future printing. Unlike some studios, they do not store the electronic file for any period. So, if you think you might someday want reprints, this is your time to decide.

Portrait Innovations does offer a $9.95 promotional package. The offer is limited to once per promotional period, but there seem to be at least 4 or 6 per year. For us, the periods generally work, although we do need to go in advance of my daughter's birthday if we want to go there at Christmas, as they are in the same promo period, but a week before her birthday is a different promo period.

For pictures beyond the package, you can purchase single sheets or in sets of three, which gives a discount. I think that a set of three sheets of one pose is about $25 - not the most economical, but a great way to get some additional sheets of your favorite pose or an alternate pose. I generally wind up doing the three sheet deal with a picture of the kids together and the package of the birthday child.

After you finalize your pose selections and sheet sizes, it takes about 15 minutes for your pictures to print in their in studio lab.

They do accept walk-ins, but recommend appointments. I have not had a problem, other than around the holidays, calling to get a same or next day appointment for the kids, even on the weekends.

I have had a really positive experience with Portrait Innovations. The only challenge was when we bought the cd and no one told us that the files weren't great for sharing on-line with our out of town family, despite the fact that we had sat there and said that it would be nice to have to show the pictures to the family. But, when we called the studio with our concern, they promptly offered to let us return the extra photos we purchased to get to the level needed to get the free cd for a refund or to give us a courtesy credit toward a future visit. This was great customer service, they didn't hesitate to try to correct the problem that we had.

Great customer service, child-friendly studios, friendly and patient photographers and great pictures will keep me coming back.

You can go here to find a studio near you.

Have you tried Portrait Innovations? Have you tried another product or service? Share your experience in the comments or on your blog and leave a link.