WESLEY CHAPEL, FLORIDA -- For the last five years, we've used a local JC Penny (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 JC Penny 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 JC Penny, 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 JC Penny 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. JC Penny 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 online 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 JC Penny 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.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA -- Unbelievably horrible experience. Got 2 kids under 2 clean, dressed & ready for pictures. Drove 2 hours from kill devil hills, NC to Virginia beach for Christmas pictures. Get to the location and it is PACKED. We sit on the floor with a 6 month old and 22 month old for 40 minutes (30 minutes PASSED our appointment time). I ask how long it will be and the associate straight faced says it will be at least another 30 minutes, but closer to an hour she guessed. We waited 15 more minutes and nobody had even moved in line. ARE YOU SERIOUS?
We ask again, and get the same exact answer. So with my nicely dressed, frustrated, whiny kids in tow we are forced to drive TWO HOURS back to NC. With NO PICTURES. 4 hours in the car with 2 babies, toll roads TWICE. And again, NOTHING to show for it. I am amazed and utterly disappointed. We have only had one prior experience with portrait innovations, in Greenville, NC., and it was amazing! In and out in under an hour... At Christmas time! You have no idea what it takes to get everyone ready for such an ordeal. And to have it go like this? Unreal. You've literally ruined this for us. No Christmas cards this year and no family pictures.
SUGARLAND, TEXAS -- I made an appointment for my mother to take pictures a week and a half in advance for her 78th birthday. They asked if it was a special occasion and I said, "yes her birthday." They asked how old she would be and I told them. They made the appointment. We came in and then this smart ass White Girl takes her into the studio to start taking pictures and then says who know she can't get the promotional since she is the only one taking pictures and I said know I did not! I was pissed because we had rushed up there to take the promotional package for 19.99 and all ** was concerned about was us paying for the more expensive packages.
I called their corporate office and spoke to the [customer] service manager named ** (of course she was black with a ghetto name like that) and she only kept repeating their policy and saying that she was sorry and they will have to go over the policy [in depth] in their training sessions. I have taken a lot of pictures before and I have never heard this before. I guess it was because we have always bought more than the specials. ** was the only nice person who tried to make us feel better about what had happened to us. I will never go to Portrait Innovations again because Customer Service is not what they practice!
PLEASANT PRAIRIE, WISCONSIN -- On a trip to meet my new niece in Illinois, I talked my sister-in-law into taking our three children to Portrait Innovations for pictures together. I have been using Portrait Innovations for over 8 years, originally in Colorado, and most recently in Arkansas. At the studio in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, on November 10, 2012, our studio session went great! The photographer was nice, even though her camera battery died just as the infant gave us her best smile of the day - figures, right?
As we were selecting our photos for purchase, I point-blank asked the photographer which package was the smallest package with a CD. She told me the 6 pose package for $129.99 (plus $15 for the gimmick package) was the smallest with a CD. I'll admit my husband is the one with the good memory and he wasn't with me, but I thought that seemed like a little more than we'd selected a few weeks earlier at our Arkansas studio. After selecting our 6 poses, I again asked the photographer if this was the smallest package with a CD. She said yes.
That evening I called my husband to tell him what a great time we had and asked if he remembered what package we'd bought a few weeks earlier in Arkansas. He did better than that - he pulled out the receipt. We had purchased a THREE pose package with a CD for $69.99 on September 23, 2012.
I called the Wisconsin studio the next morning and asked for our photographer. I thought it right to give her an opportunity to explain herself, rather than attacking her to her manager. She said that the 3 pose package had been discontinued. I asked her when that was and she said it was about a month before, when the Christmas backgrounds began being offered. Still not completely trusting the photographer, I called our Arkansas studio and asked if (1) all the studios had the same packages (they said yes) and (2) if they were still offering the 3 pose package with a CD. They said yes again.
This time I called the manager at Pleasant Prairie. She got on the phone and I explained how upset I was that our photographer lied to us! She made no apology!!! I couldn't believe it!!! In fact, she said that her photographer was just trying to help us get a better deal, but that if we wanted to bring three of our poses back she'd refund $15. She said the 3 pose package had increased from $69.99 to $114.99 from September to November! So the price difference from the 3 pose package to the 6 pose package was $15. Furthermore, I couldn't get my refund until the calendars they ordered for us, all poses our photographer selected, arrived via mail!
I decided to eat the $15 rather than drive from Arkansas to Wisconsin to return their items. However, I've learned my lesson. I'm taking bets on how long a company that was great 8 years ago can survive with employees and policies like these. The CD quality has completely deteriorated and they've added an advertisement to the bottom of each picture on the CD. I had been telling my friends in Arkansas about this great studio we'd loved in Colorado that had finally made its way to us in Arkansas. Not anymore.
IF I darken the door of a Portrait Innovations again (solely due to the honesty of the local studio) it will be only for the $15 gimmick package - until they change that too! Be warned - Portrait Innovations lies with no apology!!!
FORT WAYNE, INDIANA -- I made an appointment with Portrait Innovations in Fort Wayne, IN and explained to them that I wanted to get holiday family photos taken as well as get my twin one year old first birthday pictures taken. On the phone they seemed very friendly and accommodating, not the case when we arrived. The studio is 20 miles from our house and located in an outdoor mall. We had a 5:20 appointment and arrived at 5:30, but finding parking and then finding the studio took time. When we arrived we were told that we were 10 minutes late and they would not take our pictures. I asked why they didn't have a bit of a leeway for traffic, parking etc.
She said we allow a ten minute window. I replied, "well we made it in 10 minutes. You just said we were ten minutes late." She replied, "You have to be here in UNDER 10 minutes." Also, why wasn't this policy mentioned when I made the appointment and why is it not on the website? To top it off the lady was very rude, the waiting area was so packed and chaotic that I could not imagine that we would have received any quality pictures anyway.
I believe that they know their customer service is a problem because there is no way to contact customer service through their website. They do not care what kind of service is offered. It is too bad for Portrait Innovations actually, because I spend a lot of money on pictures. I will never return to ANY Portrait Innovations studio again.
MIDDLETON, WISCONSIN -- Dirty tricks. I went in for a 12 dollar deal, but was charged an additional 12 dollar "handling fee". Cannot even imagine what they hope to accomplish in ticking off a customer like that. How ridiculous. So the "12 dollar deal" was really close to 25 dollars, and the sales pitch they made you sit through was obnoxious. As a customer, you were unable to "cut to the chase" so to speak, but had to sit through this monotonous, repetitive, torturous sales speech, and the attitude was not very friendly if you chose not to buy a package.
GRANGER, INDIANA -- I have been going to PI for 4 years. They overbook and the wait time is awful but we loved our photographer Heidi. I have learned they FIRED her because her productivity dropped when her mother died unexpectedly! She is by far the best photographer they had. They are all about the money and have no heart or compassion. I will never go back and will spend hundreds of dollars elsewhere. Terrible management!
RIDGELAND, MISSISSIPPI -- Portrait Innovations, Ridgeland, MS. This past Tuesday, December 6, I had a 5:10 pm appointment but on arrival at 5:00 pm we were informed they were running behind. The place was packed; there were four sittings w/ children before me. Manager (**) advised that I “go around the corner and have a seat, we'll get to you shortly.” At 6:28 they had still not gotten to us; but based on how things were going, we were next up… until of course here in Madison County, Mississippi – **, plays the “race card”; took a ** family before me.
When I stood to question “Why is that family that came in after me now going before me?” She replied, “your name was called but no one answered”. My response, "IF you called my name while still standing at the front desk, then no I did not hear you." As packed as this place is, good customer service is to walk the floor and make sure the customer is (1) not in the dressing room; (2) not in the bathroom; or (3) simply not hearing you.
I further stated, "there are 20 people here. Children running, screaming, smacking Legos and you think I can hear you above all this?” Her reply... there was not one, complete silence. No reply, no apology, nothing. Finally ** came out to say, “as soon as the current group finished in Room 1, I'll get you started”. For the record, ** happens to be **. ** (the Manager) made the mistake but she sent ** to correct her series of mistakes, the first being that she did not walk the floor to ensure my presence, the second - she offered no apology.
In anything you do or anyplace you go - "THINGS" happen, so the least she should have done was offer an apology. When ** did start working with us, it's now closing time (my original appointment was at 5:10) and **, while trying to put forward a good front, appeared rushed and impatient thereby leading a very unsatisfactory Portrait Innovation experience. Portrait Innovations is a customer service based business and if ** does not have a desire to work with African American clients – she should not be representing this company. African Americans are paying customers too.
CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA -- I am disappointed in the services provided because the photo session was of very low quality and the resultant pictures were not up to the quality we have come to expect. As suggested by the Portrait Innovations website, we arrived five minutes early for our appointment, but then waited an additional 20 until our session started. Since I have a young child, I had specifically chosen this appointment time to avoid naps and feedings and on a Friday to avoid excessive weekend crowds, so I was very frustrated to start so late for an appointment that I had so carefully chosen.
Additionally, after starting significantly late for our appointment, we were rushed through our photo session. In fact, the photographer only took four pictures in one pose for one outfit. The photographer, while very friendly, did not listen to what we wanted from the session. The purpose of this session, as told to the agent when we made the appointment, was for my daughter's 8 month pictures. We wanted pictures of her playing with different spring and Easter related props. We even brought a few toys with us to help with the session. However, we only got one pose with a prop and the backgrounds chosen by the photographer did not reflect spring very well.
In fact, one background was red with a rose lighting that made my daughter look like she had sunburn! Additionally, several pictures were unusable since the photographer either cut off part of my daughter's chin or were so off center they could not be fixed. Normally I leave the studio feeling like I could have spent several hundred more dollars and having had a very difficult time choosing between so many great pictures. This time however, it was very difficult to find even six good poses.
When we picked up our pictures, thankfully we checked our package before getting all the way home since we were given another family's pictures. We had to return to the store to correct the mistake and luckily, our photos were still there. This final mistake just made working with that company that much more disappointing.
We ended up spending over $100, but should have just walked away with the $10 special instead of wasting more time and money. We will be looking for another photography studio to do our daughter's 1 year pictures and all of our holiday and special event pictures from now on. In fact, we were so upset about our experience, we will be sure to tell everyone we know to avoid spending their money there.
NORTHVILLE MI, MICHIGAN -- I received a flier for Portrait Innovations for a one pose package for $10. with no additional fees. Needing Christmas cards I thought this would be a great idea. We have tried Sears in the past and the experience was fine, but I liked the idea that we would not have to wait days for our pictures, only a few minutes. At out appointment the photographer and support staff were great. The kids were having fun and the pictures were super cute. I was ready to be a loyal customer and sing all the praises of this company. We sat down with the photographer and narrowed our choices down to the $10.00 special and then two additional poses.
At that time the photographer showed up a "special effects" portrait that we would be getting and told us we would receive the CD as well. We paid, ran and errand and then returned and picked up our photos and cards and everything was awesome. Until we looked at our package and found that neither the "special effects" picture or the CD were in the bag. I went back in and a woman who was most likely the manager, greeted me and asked me what I was confused about. I asked her about the CD and the "special effects" picture. She informed me that they did not come with what we had purchased and that they would be an additional $30.00.
I told her that the photographer had not said that and that we should expect them with what we had received. She again said "No". She then asked me if it was my "first time" there (to which I replied yes, as it was) and "that was why I must be confused". I took my prints and left knowing this situation would not improve. My husband decided to go and speak with the staff about the missing item. At that point the people told him that he was incorrect and the "photographer had made a mistake" and they had "thrown away the CD" already and those items were not part of what we paid for.
It's customer service 101 that you do not get into a shouting match with a customer, which is what this woman did with my husband. We are not the type of people to complain about a dollar or two or standard sub-par service. Considering, however, that I work in customer service/sales management I would be fired if I treated a customer the way my husband and I were treated. Hopefully their HQ will take our concerns more seriously than the staff at this location did.