Thursday, January 23, 2020


I have a little project I've been idly plotting.

In the Bellingham schools they try to integrate kids who have a variety of challenges into the schools as far as possible. Kids with autism, kids with various disorders of various kinds. Some of the kids in these "Life Skills" classes are really really sensitive to some kinds of stimuli. In particular, some of them SCREAM AND RUN FOR IT when a flash goes off.

This makes the standard school photo routine kind of impractical. In the USA there is one dominant vendor for school photos, Lifetouch, and as near as I can tell they offer no service that does not include flash. I made calls and various inquiries and got a lot of non-responses, and one "no we definitely don't" response.

So I have been half trying to locate an alternate vendor who might have advanced into this century, and half pondering setting up to just do it myself with LED lighting. I was gonna go buy some moderately expensive Godox things that Kirk Tuck recommends, but they I remembered I had a thing with an E26 base and a cord, a thing that can be clamped onto a light stand etc. That just means a thing where you can screw in a standard light bulb. So off I went to buy one (1) inexpensive light stand, one (1) silver lined brolly, and one (1) 120W equivalent PAR38 daylight balanced bulb.

That bulb is basically just a standard "spotlight" style bulb you might use in an exterior security light fixture thing. Nothing major.

Then I plopped the kid down next to a wall for a reflector, put my ghetto-ass light up, and shot this.

Ok, so the CRIs-things of my lightbulb are garbage, which means I think that the color of the light is not guaranteed? Or wrong? Or something? Plus the "reflector" wall is blue. So the color is probably all fucked up and terrible? But, I dunno. I twitched the white balance thing around a little, and that's pretty much what she looks like.

I feel like I can at least hang with the horrible work Lifetouch does. I am still debating how hard I want to try to actually sign myself up for this, like, job. But I feel like someone oughta and I can't find anyone else to step up.


  1. This is lovely, so far better than the usual school fare.

  2. Andrew, rest assured that it will take active effort on your part to be worse than lifetouch— and Good on you for trying to help. What you have there looks like a pretty good start.

    Any possibility of setting the kids up in a classroom with a decent window, using reflectors as necessary to bounce the light back onto the shadow side? Fully recognize that winter days are short in the Pacific Northwest.

    Might be the least distressing for the kids. Otherwise, totally agree continuous lighting is the way to go.

    1. Indeed, the plan would be to work with windows as possible, with a light for fill/flexibility. Thank you!

  3. Why is it necessary to have a large corporation handle school photography? What value added do they provide that a school can't get from a local pro? People really are afraid, aren't they? They need the same restaurant chain at every highway rest stop, the same grocery story brand, etc. I don't believe for one second that we get better value because of economies of scale. For a culture steeped in the idea of individual liberty, the need to conform seems very strong.

    1. To be fair, school photography is a very specialized niche. There are the usual business requirements (insurance and so on) probably background checks and posted bonds and all that nonsense.

      Then you've got to grind out 100s of portraits in a day, or dozens of group shots (for which you keep track of the names and positions of every single person). The pace of these things is simply insane, and the level of detail necessary to track the data is remarkable.

      Then you have to deliver the whole thing are Very Low Prices. I don't know what the per-kid sale is likely to be, but if they averaged $20 gross per kid (some kids will buy $0 worth of prints) I'd be surprised.

      You might say "well that's ridiculous, they should pay more and get more" except that the whole point is to make accessible one semi-decent photo per year to the whole range of students.

      That said, even out here in the boonies, I am uncovering some operations that are more local, more accommodating. Which I am very pleased to learn!

  4. Lifetouch is just a sausage factory. Kids with any sort of challenge are either excluded or given the "best-we-could-do-in-30-seconds" treatment, which just reinforces their marginalization. Parents want to see this annual ritual as proof of their kids' inclusion. But when it's buggered up, it does just the opposite. Nice, right?

    That's a very tender portrait I read as evidence of care and respect for the subject. Good on you.