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Published September 09, 2013, 10:00 PM

Making the most of your child's picture day

FARGO -- The year is 1988 and I’m in sixth grade.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

FARGO -- The year is 1988 and I’m in sixth grade.

My pink plastic glasses take up half my face. My baby-blue, heart-shaped earrings cover the entire bottom of my earlobe. But neither accessory is as big as my frizzy permed hair.

With my upturned collar on my floral shirt, this has got to be my best school picture. And by best, I mean funniest.

School pictures can be a great way to capture just how much we and our kids change over the years. And they can also document some hilariously awful moments.

Dave Owings of Glyndon, Minn., is a former school photographer who experienced some truly funny situations during his work in the ’80s and ’90s.

First of all, there was the hair.

“The girls always used to have a flip-up set of bangs,” he said. “In order to get all the hair in, you would have to roll the camera back, sometimes two feet to accommodate the 9-inch flip in their hair.”

Then there was the clothing: Rubik’s cube shirts, identical twins dressed exactly the same, guys who would change out of their nice shirts into inappropriate shirts just for the picture.

“Parents would be furious with the photographer for letting them take a picture like that,” Owings said.

But there are two moments that really stand out.

One was a boy who got a black eye in gym class the day of school pictures. A bunch of senior girls tried to cover the bruise with makeup, but it didn’t quite work as planned.

“He almost had the half-man, half-woman look because of all the makeup,” Owings said.

The other was a young boy who sneezed as Owings snapped the picture. At the same time, one of the child’s teeth flew out of his mouth.

“We retook the picture right away,” Owings said.

But a lot has changed over the past couple of decades when it comes to school pictures.

“It was really a mug shot, take it or leave it and the consumer did not have any options,” said Brian Tulibaski, business manager for Lifetouch in North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota “Now the consumer has options in a retail environment. The expectations are far, far greater.”

Patrick Scherling, who has been a photographer for more than 30 years and who owns and operates Scherling Photography with his brother, Larry, said digital photography is a lot easier to work with, especially when it comes to school pictures.

Photographers can instantly see if a child’s eyes are closed or if he’s making a funny face. And if a child happens to have gotten a black eye before the photo or spilled spaghetti all over himself, photographers will mark the image to be retouched, Scherling said.

Years ago if someone spilled on his shirt before his picture was taken, photographers might have had him switch shirts with a friend, Owings said.

Ordering pictures has also changed. Parents can choose from multiple background options and can order school pictures online.

Scherling just started a system in which kids are given passwords, and parents can reorder pictures online. They can even order pictures that were taken last year. The longer the system is in place, the farther back parents will be able to go in ordering photos.

And at Lifetouch, backgrounds can be changed even after the photos are taken, said Brian Tulibaski, business manager for Lifetouch in North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota

Lifetouch, which is based in Eden Prairie, Minn., has been taking school pictures for nearly 70 years.

Scherling Photography, which has locations in Fargo, Bismarck, Sioux Falls, S.D., Minneapolis, and Arlington, Va., has been taking school portraits since 1919.

Both companies take school pictures in the area.

School picture day is right around the corner for many schools. To make the most of the day, photographers suggest the following tips:


Mark picture day on your calendar and plan an outfit ahead of time that looks good on your child and reflects the child’s personality, Lifetouch recommends.


In planning the perfect outfit, keep focus on your child, not their clothing. Solid color, long-sleeved shirts with no slogans are best, according to Lifetouch.


Don’t go overboard with grooming and makeup.

Hair looks best when it is cut two weeks before picture day and worn in its usual style, Lifetouch states.

And watch out for giant earrings or over-the-top hair clips. Accessories should complement an outfit, not overpower it, according to Lifetouch.


Sometimes if kids are self-conscious about their smiles they will try not to smile for the picture, often resulting in an awkward expression.

Owings said it’s always better to smile.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526