... wherein I bloviate discursively

Brian Clapper,

Sanity Clause

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This weekend, we took our daughter to the local mall to have her picture taken with Santa Claus. (We’re ambivalent about the whole lying-to-your-kid-about-Santa thing, but it’s impossible to escape The Claus in this culture. And our daughter, like most five-year-olds, is really into it.)

This year, there was a notice I didn’t remember from last year. The event’s sponsor, an outfit that evidently does a lot of these things, kindly requested that parents refrain from using personal photographic equipment, so that they could continue to afford to bring Santa to the mall to delight the children.

Ahem Give me a break.

The whole picture-with-Santa gig appears to be a lucrative one–for the photo company, at least, though “Santa” seems to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. (For the past several years, the Santa at this gig is a very kind and pleasant elderly man with a perfect Santa beard. Sure, let the old guy do all the physical labor.) The photo packages start at $15.99 and go up to $32.99. For $15.99, you get one 3”x5” photo an two key chains with photos. For $17.99, you get two 3”x5” photos. And so on.

Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. There were easily 100 kids waiting to see Santa by the time he got back from his 2:30-3:00 break. So, let’s assume “Santa” sees 500 kids a day. Let’s figure maybe half of the parents opted for some kind of photo. (I think that’s conservative; few people are going to wait in line for more than an hour, with antsy bored kids, and then refuse to get a picture.) Prices ranged from $15.99 to $32.99. Assume a low-ball average of $20 per kid, 250 kids a day. That’s $5,000 a day, $10,000 for the weekend. Again, that’s probably a low estimate.

You know that isn’t all going to “Santa.” Or to the “elves” taking the pictures. And it sure as hell isn’t going into photo-processing. The photos are printed, complete with cheesy borders, right then and there, on an inkjet photo printer that’s pretty much the same as the one I have in my home. And, when we finally got to the front of the very long line, I was not very surprised to find that they were using a Nikon D70, identical to the one I own. In fact, my every-day lens might even be better than the one they had on their camera..

The fact is, I take better photos of my daughter than a low-paid snapshooter banging out prints for the crowd. And why not? I have some skill as a photographer, and she’s my daughter. So, I decided to ask them if I could use my camera to take some pictures of my daughter on Santa’s lap, as long as I agreed to pay for one of their pictures. I think that’s fair. I wasn’t cheating them out of anything; if they’d refused, I wasn’t going to buy a higher-priced package anyway. When I asked one of the “elves,” she was okay with that arrangement.

As luck would have it, just as my daughter sat down on Santa’s lap, they had a printer malfunction or something. I fired off 20 digital shots of her and Santa, while we waited for the official photographer to come back and take the “real” photo. After five very long minutes of waiting and holding up the line, we elected to move on and let the next child take his turn with Santa.

So we didn’t end up paying after all, and we got some excellent photos of our daughter with Santa.

This is quite the nice deal the photo company has lined up for themselves. And who can fault them for it? Their prices seem high to me, but there’s no shortage of customers, judging by the workout their printer and cash register were getting today.

I’m thinking a Santa suit might be a good investment.