GETTING A HANDLE ON HIGH SCHOOL PORTRAITS Tribune Media Services -- September 22, 2008 By Steve Rosen, Tribune Media Services The numbers look stunning. Your teen's monthly text-messaging bill? Not even close. Try the cost of high school senior portraits. A thousand dollars or more is not unusual -- really. Now, I'm not referring to the standard senior yearbook portraits, most of which are shot at studios that contract with the school and offer relatively inexpensive basic packages and options. Rather, this is the time of year when many parents hire a photographer to take more creative and candid visuals of their expectant Class of 2009 graduate. Parents are shelling out hundreds of dollars -- sometimes more than $1,000 -- for senior pictures. And if you have a daughter ... well, I'll let Allie McComas, a mother and writer from Dayton, Ohio, tell you. McComas, who recently wrote a humorous online commentary on senior portraits for Connected Photographer magazine, told me that based on her experiences, "the parents of girls spend roughly three times more on their photo packages than boys." Chalk it up, she said, to multiple outfits and multiple backdrops. Why all this spending for keepsake photos that might wind up on a favorite aunt's refrigerator for a few weeks or get shoved to the back of your child's closet with other high school memorabilia? I've been through the process twice, so I know that many parents probably don't think twice about opening the checkbook for professional-quality photos of their senior. Graduation, as many parents probably rationalize, is a rite of passage, a once-in-a-lifetime occasion that should be celebrated with wonderful pictures. No wonder the school photography industry appears to be recession-proof. At least that was the suggestion from Harvey Parido, president of the Professional School Photographers Association International, in an interview recently with McClatchy Newspapers. While there's nothing wrong with writing a big check to a photographer, there are ways to manage the expenses without spoiling the fun experience. Start by shopping around for a photographer, checking references, comparing prices and developing a budget, said Cheryl Galyean. She and her photographer-husband, Tim Galyean, have operated Tim Galyean Photography in Stilwell, Kan., for 20 years. "There are people who will charge $1,000 for their work and people who will charge $50," Cheryl Galyean said. "The important thing is to make sure you can work with them and be comfortable with them." The Galyeans estimate they'll shoot about 350 senior portraits by the end of the school year, and customers can choose from about a dozen pricing packages. Cheryl Galyean said the two most popular plans cost $399 and $699, respectively, and include a mix of color and black-and-white portraits, digital images on a CD, prints in a variety of sizes and a family portrait session. To save money, Galyean recommends scheduling a photo session early in the school year, when more discounts are available. A note to current high school juniors: Some of the best deals are typically offered during the summer. In addition, ask about keeping proofs and whether there are minimum sitting fees. Be sure you understand the copyright laws that could restrict your son or daughter from reproducing professional photos on Facebook, party invitations or anything else. Check with the photographer about a copyright authorization before hiring them. "We figure that kids are going to copy the photos anyway, so we give them authorization so they can do it legally," Cheryl Galyean said. Jostens, the school merchandising company, recommends that parents prepare a list of people they plan to give photos to before deciding how many to order. Also, Jostens said, photo costs can be held in check by limiting poses. Of course, you can skip the professional route altogether and do it yourself, especially if you own a quality digital camera. You also can reap savings by hiring a photography student or finding a photography-buff friend, then tapping into software tools to enhance the finished product. Finally, put the onus on your teen to manage the experience. If they want a bigger, better package of photos to hand out to friends and family, let them pay for part or all of it. At the very least, consider giving them an amount you're willing to pay, and let them take it from there. Developing planning skills and following through on a project -- that's good exposure for any teen. (Questions, comments, column ideas? Send an e-mail to srosen(AT)kcstar.com or write to him at The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.) (c) 2008 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.