A child looking goofy in a photo.
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Why I Say ‘No’ to Photo Retakes and Retouching for School Picture Day

Mar 1, 2018

I am looking at two school pictures. In the first, my daughter stares directly into the camera lens. Her hair is meticulously combed with a few stray strands of blond brushing one cheek. Her white cardigan is buttoned, just the way she likes it, with the pink frill of her dress peeking out the top. The smile is strained and adorably off-kilter. This was last year’s picture.

In the second picture, she stoops forward, with her eyes askance and her hair bulging out to the left like a helmet. The smile is even but it’s one of those expansive ones that scrunches up all the other features on her face. That's this year’s picture.

Last year her smile was awkwardly perfect. This year it is perfectly awkward. But I won’t be getting that photo retake. And I have my wife to thank for it. This time she was right. So right that I’m willing to admit it… in an essay. 


Relevant Reading: 8 Camera Phone Tricks to Help You Take Better Photos of Your Kids


But before I get into that I have some disclosures. First, my wife was, indeed, out of town on picture day this year. Second, all three of my kids are mighty fine looking — beautiful, even — if I do say so myself (and I do, loudly and often). Any pictures that suggest otherwise be damned. Third, I consider it a stroke of good luck if one out of three of my kids is smiling and/or looking at the camera and/or doesn’t have a finger knuckle deep up their nose in his or her school picture.

I know there are all kinds of tips to prep and preen your kids for picture day. Our picture provider, Edge Imaging, publishes a website featuring helpful pointers (e.g.: "Wearing long sleeves allows the face to stand out more."). But my kids are so enthusiastic the day that picture envelope arrives home, regardless of how goofy they may or may not look, that I tend not to bother with offering tips. They’re happy, why mess with it? 

This year was a little different.

“I think we might need some photo retakes,” I sheepishly announced to my wife.

Why would we want our kids to think their pictures were anything less than perfect?

She opened up the photo envelope, guffawed at the goofy poses, then looked me straight in the eyes and asked, “Why?”

She didn’t say anything beyond that. And she didn’t need to. Just about everything our children do in the school environment is measured and evaluated, whether socially or academically. We know the fastest kid at recess, the tallest kid in class and the kid who is the best at math. Why would we want our kids to think their pictures were anything less than perfect?


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I would never dream of having our kid’s pictures retouched, a service that is offered for between $8 and $18 depending on the level of alterations. Frankly I find the trend toward sanitizing elementary and even high school pictures more than a little creepy.

If I don’t want to put my kids through a posing and preening regime, if I truly believe they are beautiful despite photo evidence to the contrary and if they are smiling at the camera and do not have a finger up their nose (they do not), then why, why would I even consider photo retakes? They’re happy, why mess with it? Still true. I think I just lost my nerve this year, briefly. Thanks for the save, honey. You were right.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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