For several years now, we've used a local JCPenny (owned & operated by LifeTouch Photography) for all of our family portraits. We've been generally happy with that service which, on average, costs $80 and includes a TON of photos PLUS 40 holiday cards. We are also able to purchase at a constant/set price all of the HI-RES images on CD from JCPenny including a copyright release form. This November 2012, we decided to try something different.
At the Wiregrass Mall in Wesley Chapel FL, a new photo studio named "Portrait Innovations" opened for business. In summary, our experience was unsatisfactory. We will never return there nor recommend it to anyone.
Here's a list of reasons:
1) Overcrowded studio. The place was PACKED to the point it was severely distracting on several levels. (A) All the children waiting with their families were LOUD, playing in the centrally-located play area as well as (B) throwing balls / toys into the open photo rooms which were currently in-session by different families. (C) It was very difficult to focus on the package choice process, due to the noise level and other customer sitting nearby and staring at the large monitors with all of our personal data displayed (name, home address, phone, etc). In comparison with JCPenny, there was never more than three families present; the customer currently being photographed, the prior customer choosing their package, and the customer waiting to be photographed next. The JCP studio was ALWAYS quiet and well-mannered.
2) Deceptive marketing. We were enticed by a low-price ad of $14.95. While most ads are designed to lure customers, this one was completely deceptive. When we first sat down to review our photo session, the sales rep's first pitch was for all of the photos taken. Cost? $494.00 USD. I nearly fell off the chair and had to restrain myself not to get up and walk out. When we asked what the advertisement was offering, we were told it was "CHOOSE ONE POSE ONLY" and have it printed on the variety of formats offered in the ad. This was despite their shooting over 70 images during our session. We definitely feel this was a scam, especially in comparison to our prior years' experience with JCPenny Portrait Studio who never attempted such deceptive marketing measures.
3) Three shots per pose. They only shot three photos of each pose, even if someone blinked or one family member wasn't looking directly at the camera. There was no obvious on-the-spot checking to see if the photographer captured the intended shot. This was not the case with JCP who had a nearby monitor in which they reviewed each and every shot before moving onto the next pose.
4) No placement of subjects / blocking faces. We kept expecting the so-called photographer to place us or, at least, advise us to adjust our positions in reference to the shot and others in our group. This did not occur and, as a result, we had shots where one person was blocking a significant portion of another person's face which destroyed the shot. Again, this is contrary to our experience with JCPenny portraits.
5) No training. When I asked our young photographer where they were trained, they confessed to having NO professional or commercial photography experience prior to working for Portrait Innovations in Wesley Chapel FL at the Wiregrass Mall. They said that the studio offered some training but it focused more on the "protocol" (as they put it; meaning the 3-shots-only as discussed above) and the proprietary software and up-selling process that followed. While I understand that we all have our first job with little to no experience, this does fully explain the other complaints I have mentioned in this blog.
6) No retouching. While many (but not all) of the shots were decent, they all were raw. Neither the sales process nor automated software performed any retouching whereby a photo is "softened" or processed in a way that reduces the wrinkles, blemishes or other imperfections one would get while shooting at the HI-RES (10MB and above) quality that their professional cameras captured. JCPenny Portrait Studio offered this non-intrusive processing on our prior years' photos and it only enhanced the holiday images that were chosen in our package. For those not understanding what I mean here; the high-resolution photos are intelligently processed by software that recognizes eyes, teeth and other features which are then protected from the "softening" process, so as to retain the crispness of those features. When performed properly, it beautifies the overall photograph.
7) Deceptive CD. (A) The package came with a CD but it only contains the LOW-RES images from the session. Moreover, each digital image has a footer with the studio's name and website address. The studio "encouraged" us to share the low-res images on Facebook and other social websites, clearly at their gain, thanks to the embedded marketing on OUR paid-for photos. Fortunately, using simple and no-cost tools such as WWW. GETPAINT. NET, one can easily and quickly crop off the marking footer from these photos.
(B) Following suit with 7A, the CD contains encrypted versions of the hi-res images, in a file-format ".PI2".
8) Digital images are not retained. Session photo images are NOT available on-line for reordering. In fact, Portrait Innovations was quick to inform us that ALL of our photographs would be DESTROYED after we left the studio. Hence, the CD being the only copy of the session and, regardless of how much money one spent, the images would REMAIN encrypted and would therefore require additional purchasing to order more/different copies .. and all this by revisiting the studio with CD in-hand. This is VERY different from JCPenny Portrait Studio who otherwise provide ALL of the session images on CD - in BOTH high-res and low-res - INCLUDING a digital COPYRIGHT RELEASE thereby allowing the purchaser or their extended families to make copies at any printing facility of their choice such as Walmart, Walgreens, etc.
In summary, we would never again use Portrait Innovations photo studio in Wesley Chapel Florida (nor any other location). Moreover, we would not recommend Portrait Innovations to anyone who would also be upset by the aforementioned issues, should they likely occur during their session .. or by having their precious keepsake digital memories held ransom for a cost.