{Editor’s Note} Please visit HERE to learn the conclusion. I’m not afraid to admit although I stand by my original post, my mind was completely and utterly blown by the photographs we viewed and ultimately purchased.

 

{A Very Expensive Lesson}

This morning we rushed off to have breakfast before coming home to primp for our first family photo with John. For anyone who knows our family, it’s difficult to get time together with John working weekends and myself writing on deadline. We scheduled this afternoon a month out and walked into the photography studio like rockstars.

I should tell you how this all began. Before Christmas, a young representative from Venture Photography approached my daughter in the mall and asked to take her picture. Finding out more about the company, I was intrigued, (though I don’t allow Ava’s photo to be taken unless we know the person taking the photo.) They were selling a ‘groupon’ like coupon. For $50 we would receive a studio sitting and a free 8×10. After saying we’d think about it, the rep informed us he’d be happy to upgrade our coupon to a 2-for-1. I’m such a freak for a great deal, I did a quick google search and it showed me they were located in Edina. We purchased the voucher and later that week I was called to schedule my appointment. We decided after Christmas would be best and within hours of scheduling I had a follow-up email from our photographer named, “Joe.” As much of a freak as I am for a good deal, I’m literally immune to the call of great customer service. I forgot about the photos until earlier this week when we picked out clothing and I reminded everyone that Sunday was picture day.

I peeked at the voucher on the way over and noticed that it had a dollar amount on it of $500.00. I’m no photographer, but a few of my friends are. I silently wondered, “Where the heck are they getting these prices?” When I turned the card over, the pricing was broken down like this:

 

$300.00 – 1-hour studio session with photographer

$100.00 – Designer Frame

$100.00 – Consultation with slideshow at portrait presentation

We arrived at 12:45pm for our 1:00pm portraits and proceeded to wait until 1:14. We were given the options of pop, juice, water and coffee while we waited. The portraits on the wall were gorgeous and we snapped a photo of my little one on the couch with a cell phone as she looked through the ‘model book.’ A family with the same age children as Ava came in a few minutes before we headed back to the studio. They picked up 5-7 flat boxes and the woman exclaimed, “I love these photos!” Content in a good decision, we walked into the studio and Joe immediately put us at ease. He mentioned he had just graduated from Art School and looked to be in his very early twenties. I thought it was a little strange the photographer was so young, but as we talked, he knew skill beyond his years. He crawled on the ground with Ava and asked for high-fives as he simultaneously snapped photos of her jumping and smiling. We played great games where we tickled each other, called out words and smiled, not on command, but on our own accord.

After about 25 minutes, he said he had all the photos he needed. I peeked at the clock and thought, “That’s a little strange,” but sat on the couch to put my coat on. It was only then he pulled out a pricing book and since John and I had already discussed we needed to spend a little more to have ‘great family photos,’ we thought we budgeted accordingly. We couldn’t have been more surprised.

 

 

{Outrageous Pricing}

Well, this is entirely my fault. Usually I wear a “do not approach” frown when it comes to mall kiosks. And frankly, I try to support local and independent photographers in Minnesota as much as we can because with the pop-ups of studios and franchises, it’s local and independent artists that are most hurt. I take the blame of wanting to save money and hear about a new business. That’s where most of my guilt lies at the  moment, in the fact that trying to save money I am hurting another business.

{Photography Should Evolve, Not Sit On A Wall}

I talked to John over a late lunch as we sat in awe over the pricing and idea that photography should only be on the walls and Venture doesn’t offer any digital images. (Well, they do, but first you have to spend $1000.00 then it’s an additional $500.00, but you can’t upload the images or post them on Facebook as they are protected. You’re able to view on the “computer screen, only.” ) I never understood when technology evolved why a photography studio wouldn’t want their images viewed by the masses. For instance, if Venture offered a ‘free facebook photo’ instead of a framed 8×10, they could watermark the photo, (as every photographer should,) and get MORE word of mouth and advertising for free. Imagine the online contests and tagging that would happen? Bloggers would post photos that would already advertise themselves. Instead, Venture Photography refuses to evolve into the digital atmosphere because they want to sell over-priced wall mounted canvas prints. They can control the flow of the art and therefore decrease piracy, which is rampant in the photography world. The fact of the matter is, good photographers want to have their clients share their work and allow friends and family to see. The only way to share a Venture Photography photo, would be to invite people over. It just felt, odd.

{What Venture Said}

When we sat at home and John looked at me and earnestly said, “I don’t want to go in and be pressured to spend these prices,” I knew the $50 coupon had already cost him a day off work, our family a much-needed afternoon together and me, part of my sanity. I decided to call Venture Photography and see what a manager said. Lisa was the manager at the Edina studio and offered to answer my questions. I spoke about how excited we were about the experience, but how ‘baited’ we felt about the prices. When I mentioned that we couldn’t afford to spend $1200-1500 on several framed prints, she offered us an option to finance. (It also clearly mentions financing on the sales pamphlets given out at the end of the session.)  When I commented that we are a family that doesn’t use credit cards and ‘creative financing’ doesn’t suit us she mentioned,”weekly and monthly specials.” I asked what some of the specials might be, or if I could be given a price list for the items not on the pamphlets and I was told, “We cannot give any pricing information that is not on our main sheet.” I asked what a typical sale might be and she mentioned that just for coming in to view the photos, we’d receive, “20% off if we could commit to buying our package then .” I don’t know about you, but 20% off a 1500.00 framed portrait still doesn’t leave my mouth with a good taste. Lisa mentioned the “average customer usually buys $1500.00 worth of photos.” I couldn’t imagine spending that amount of money without any tangible digital footprint to keep and pass down. I mentioned we’d probably cancel our return appointment for the “1.5 hour movie viewing,” of our photos. Lisa stated that it was she, who would be on during our scheduled viewing date and she would be happy to “work something out with us.” I couldn’t describe the feeling much more than saying when I hung up the phone, I looked over at John and said, “I feel dirty.”

{Conclusion}

Their website and business are based out of the UK. As with any professional photography site they boast tantalizing photos and a clean design. The real truth happened when I dug a little deeper. I learned that their booth staff drew people in for $10/an hour and were considered “interns.’ I wondered how much Joe made for all his hard work. Complaints against Venture Photography go back all the way to 2007 in the UK and 2008 in the US. Although I truly still want an 8×10 of our family, I’m not sure I want to sit through a sales pitch to receive it. My time is valuable and I despise sales gimmicks. In the few months the Edina, MN location has been open, the BBB already cites 3 complaints against the company. In the Connecticut location, 10 complaints have been filed. In comparison to other photography studios with similar concepts, (though no gimmicky sales pitches,) Flash Photography in Burnsville has 0 complaints. The only Target Portrait Studio listed had 0 complaints. I was unable to find BBB listings for The Portrait People, Sears Portrait or others. I did a full search for “Portrait Studios, MN” and I could find no complaints for any studio besides Venture Photography. To me, this does not mean the complaints do not exist, but they are perhaps more hidden or personal. A Google Review for “Venture Photography MN” comes up with some harsh criticism as well. I’ll update on what happens if we choose to go in or just walk away. The marketing technique of approaching young families in malls and stating they are a “new and affordable” studio in the cities is misleading at best. One thing is for sure, I need to be more diligent about ‘offers’ and ‘deals.’ It has cost me way more than I originally realized.