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Smile when you say ... ‘underpants’


Forget cheese. Apparently asking preschool-ers if they can say ‘underpants’ is the best way to get them to laugh for the camera.

“(The word) underpants is hilarious to 4 or 5 year olds,” says Melissa Tash, the founder of Spoiled Rotten Photography, a school portrait business that has found its niche in preschools. “They’ll laugh and have a great expression.”

Asking if they can say “boogers” has the same results, she adds, before admitting that may look unsavory in print.

Tash, who is just beginning to franchise her 10-year-old, Huntsville, Alabama-based business, has mastered the art of getting great photos of both unruly preschoolers, as well as those who are extremely shy. And if you question whether there is much of a business in preschool photography, Tash says she’s had parents call her studio to inquire about which preschools she photographs so they can send their child there.

Spoiled Rotten is also the school photographer for private schools, but not public, because “public schools don’t want to take the extra time,” Tash says. She describes most school pictures as “easily bland.” “One shot and you get what you get,” she says.

The reason her photos turn out so endearing, she explains, is because she takes more than one shot and spends time making the children feel comfortable in front of the camera. Even if that means letting her assistant throw soft balls at her head to win a smile.

Melissa Tash, Spoiled Rotten Photography

Before her staff shows up at a school, parents sign up online and tell her three things their child likes. That information then becomes icebreakers with the kids.

One brilliant technique they use for a shy child who won’t let go of the teacher is to turn the teacher into a couch. Here’s how it’s done: The teacher sits in a chair with a blanket over her knees and a pillow behind the child’s head for a close-up shot. Another technique is to leave the child alone to explore the set on their own, and then sneak back in and photograph them, she says.

The term “spoiled rotten” is an endearment in the South, Tash points out, plus it implies they’re going to treat their subjects like royalty. 

Franchisees will get treated to exclusive information for their royalties, she says. Tash says she can teach both the tricks of the trade as they pertain to photography and managing the business. Their proprietary software organizes the photo shoot so that each child’s photographs are instantly downloaded into a file, which sends out a message to the parents about how to order the photographs. Different themes are offered seasonally to keep the sessions fresh.

Tash knows a Spoiled Rotten photo is special because she hears about a lot of them being framed and hung on the wall. Think back to your school photos, she said. They’re the childhood equivalent to today’s driver’s license picture. Necessary, but nothing to post on Facebook.


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