Changing picture for high school seniors

Fees, commissions cut for photographers

Anne Arundel

March 07, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Starting this spring, most students getting their senior portraits taken for yearbooks at county high schools won't have to pay a sitting fee if they don't buy the pictures, under changes ordered by Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson.

The fees, as high as $15 at some schools, will be eliminated for this fall's senior class at nine county high schools. The fees will continue at three high schools - Annapolis, Northeast and South River - because the schools have multiyear contracts that cannot be changed until the agreements expire in a year or two.

The change was based on the recommendations of a committee formed last fall to review some school photograph policies. Lawson also ordered that high schools have two photo contracts -one for senior portraits and one for all other school functions - instead of a single contract to cover all school activities.

And he ordered a limit of 15 percent on the commission schools can ask of photographers. Some photography companies have paid schools commissions up to 45 percent of net sales.

"The schools are going to lose a little bit of money, but in the long run we're not here to take money from the kids," said Paul Vandenberg, principal of Southern High School, who served on the photo committee.

The school system formed the committee last fall to deal with inequities in the senior portrait policies of the county's 12 high schools. Half of the schools allowed students to submit yearbook pictures shot by any photographer; the other half required students to use the school-contracted photographer.

Segall-Majestic Photography of Baltimore has contracts with 11 of the county's high schools. Annapolis High recently switched from Segall to Blanton Studios of Rockville.

The exclusivity clause for yearbook photos upset some students who were unhappy with the quality of the photographs taken by companies that had contracts with their schools. And small, local photographers said it kept business away from them.

After some of the local photographers complained, the school system changed its policy last fall and ordered all high schools to accept senior yearbook portraits from any photographer as long they met certain guidelines, such as the size of the picture and the background used.

Students said they were pleased with that policy.

"With Segall-Majestic, there were specific time slots [to be photographed], and it's not always the best," said Jill Torene, who graduated from Arundel High School last year. "You might be coming from gym or five hours of classes."

Torene said her portrait at school was taken "pretty quickly" and that she would have preferred to go elsewhere. "I wasn't too pleased with the picture," she said.

Now the rules are changing again. For photo consistency and convenience for yearbook editors, high schools will select one photographer to take all senior portraits.

That photographer will take at least four pictures of each senior, who will choose the one he or she wants to appear in the yearbook. Seniors who don't want to buy pictures from that photographer will pay nothing.

Students who want to purchase pictures from the school photographer may be charged a sitting fee in addition to the cost of the pictures.

School principals said the new policy means poor families won't have to pay a sitting fee for their children to appear in the yearbook.

"A lot of kids can't afford the portraits at all," Vandenberg said. "This gives students more options."

Jeffrey Segall, the Baltimore territory manager for Segall-Majestic, said eliminating the sitting fee will shift that cost to students who buy pictures and must pay sitting fees. His said his company has a long-standing policy of waiving the fees for poor students if asked to by a school administrator.

"It's one thing if students can't afford the sitting fee," Segall said. "But there's a cost associated with it, and it's being underwritten by the kids who are paying for their sitting."

Severna Park photographer David Hare, who complained to the school system about its photo policies last year, said the changes will make it easier for small photographers to break into the lucrative school photo business.

"It looks like they're dividing up the pie," Hare said. "This bid is only for senior portraits, but there's still proms and dances and ... photos" for other classes.

Segall said the changes could complicate life for schools that have different companies taking pictures for seniors and for students in lower grades. He said that when his company takes all the pictures at a school, the school receives a compact disc with the images of all students for its records.

The changes could also mean that schools get less services from Segall-Majestic, Segall said. His company often provides schools with cameras, flashes and supplies needed to produce yearbooks.

"We're sending photographers out to cover a lot of different events throughout the school year," he said, "and it's based on generating revenue from senior portraits and the ... picture program" for other students.

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