Although a digital camera and the Internet is all you need to make personalized photo cards, if you want professional-quality shots, a photo studio is the way to go.
The following retail chains offer budget-priced packages, including the option of purchasing a CD of your shoot. To get the best deal, ask about specials before booking your appointment - but do NOT show up without one. All four allow walk-ins, but the wait time during the holiday rush for nonscheduled clients would wipe the smile off anyone's face.
WHERE 326 Walt Whitman Road, Huntington
SITTING FEE $9.95 (free for CLIX Club members - $40 for two years).
THE UPSHOT Individual attention with no rushing is promised at this family-owned franchise, which takes more photos (40-80 per shoot) than the typical chain. Its two private studios offer a multitude of scenic holiday and winter backdrops, or you can pose in front of a real wood door. Two changing rooms let you swap clothing mid-shoot for different looks. "The kids don't even realize they're posing because it's so spontaneous," says Danielle Carlson, 33, of West Islip, who takes her children Hazel, 2, and Aubrey, 5 months, to CLIX for all their photos. Santa will be visiting on weekends.
COST Varies - for the best holiday package price, buy one image on CD for $55.95 and add $29.95 for 20 cards or use the image to order on your own. Folding cards cost extra.
TURNAROUND Same-day for most products; about two weeks for folding cards.
INFO 631-425-2900, clixlongisland.com
WHERE Babies R Us Stores in Commack, Sayville, Massapequa Park and Westbury
SITTING FEE $14.99 (online specials often eliminate it)
THE UPSHOT A store full of babies and toddlers isn't supposed to be quiet. A glass partition separates you from the crowds, so think of it as "semiprivate." Photographers shoot up to nine poses, says Commack store manager Stephanie Hernandez. Canvas backdrops include Central Park, snow scenes and a chimney with stockings. Choose from about 70 holiday card designs; all are 4 x 8 inches and can include up to four images.
COST Varies, but a set of 10 cards is $30 ($20 for each additional set).
TURNAROUND 10-14 days
GOOD TO KNOW Check for specials online or join the Portrait Club ($10 annual with a $50 purchase) for deals.
INFO 888-979-PICS, kiddiekandids.com
WHERE Roosevelt Field Mall, Garden City
SITTING FEE None
THE UPSHOT Peace and quiet are nowhere to be found, but the hectic, high-paced atmosphere in the four open studio rooms will keep your attention. Backdrops are all solid colors; seasonal props include sleds, dreidels and fake snow. Typical sessions last 15-20 minutes, according to studio manager Jeremy Monteiro. After viewing your shoot on the computer (about 15-18 photos are taken), make your selections and cards print within minutes. Expect to be there about an hour total, more if the kids are cranky. Jennifer Saranello, 37, of Levittown brings her children Alexa, 9, and Brianna, 13, every year. "I love that I get my pictures right away - it's very convenient," she says.
COST $25 for 25 cards ($75 for 100 cards).
TURNAROUND Almost immediate.
GOOD TO KNOW All cards are 4 x 7 with glossy finish (about 30 design options). A $39.95 Portrait Club membership gets you discounts and freebies.
INFO 516-873-6005, picturepeople.com
Sears Portrait Studio
WHERE East Northport, Bay Shore, Lake Grove, Hicksville, Massapequa, Holbrook, New Hyde Park, Garden City, Valley Stream.
SITTING FEE $14.99 (online coupons often waive fee)
THE UPSHOT The vibe here is far more studio than store - private session rooms and many computer viewing stations. East Northport studio manager April Dunne suggests viewing all the background and pose options online beforehand. Expect a lot of choices: 20-60 pictures are taken. This year's new backdrop - a screen with a lighted fireplace and Christmas tree - looks like the real thing.
COST Cards regularly run $20 for 10.
TURNAROUND Same-day for on-site printing (glossy image). Matte finish takes about 10 days.
GOOD TO KNOW Supersaver Members ($10/year with $50 purchase) get additional savings such as buy one, get one free weekday offers.
INFO 888-767-8724, searsportrait.com