While browsing a local wedding facebook group I found a bride who was concerned about an issue I think many brides can relate to. To paraphrase, she wanted to know why photographers were asking for full payment before they had rendered services. Her concerns mostly focused on what if the photographer didn’t show, what if they don’t perform the services they agreed upon, and what if she wasn’t happy with the results of the images? I did respond to this brides post, and she seemed much happier after myself and some other local photographers explained why we operate the way that we do. I do however want to share what I wrote. I feel like this bride is not the only person with these kind of concerns (I certainly had them when I got married and was looking for photographers.) Hopefully my view on this can help you others out there have a better understanding as to why we work this way.
To start it should be noted that paying for your wedding photos before the date of the wedding is a normal industry standard, although it is not the only standard. Usually a photographer will request part of the payment up front to book the day, and the other half by a specific date before the wedding. In my business’s case I ask for 30% up front. This 30% is a reservation fee to book the date of your wedding. This makes it so I do not schedule anyone else on your wedding day.
Another reason for this is because if something should happen that requires the wedding to be cancelled (heaven forbid,) I may not be able to fill that day with another job, which results in a day of lost wages. We all got bills to pay, so we photographers use this fee as a type of insurance to make sure we can still make a living wage for the month. We are not trying to screw anyone out of money. This fee helps establish trust. By paying a booking fee you the clients are saying “you can trust us to pay you and to keep you hired” and in turn the photographer should be saying “by accepting your first payment you can trust me to show up and provide a quality service.” The booking fee shows that both parties are committed to working with each other.
The remaining balance for most photographers will need to be paid by a certain date before the wedding. Recently I changed this to 1 week before the wedding. I do however know that there are some photographers who will allow payments to be made right up until the day of the wedding.
Now let's discuss this brides concern; why pay before the services are rendered? I strongly believe in my case that you are paying me for my time. By paying the fee I am showing you I am committed to being there and I am committed to the work involved in editing your photos after the wedding, and you have shown me you are willing to pay me for said time. How would it benefit me to just not show up? I get paid more if I am there. Of course there is the fear of the unknown, like what if the photographer gets in an accident, or gets sick? This is where reading the fine print on the contract you signed with your photographer is important. Most photographers will have outlined in their contract what will happen in the event the unexpected happens. In my case I will either find another photographer that matches my style, or I will provide them a full refund. So it’s not like you are never going to get your money back should the photographer not show. If the services are not rendered why would I keep the money? That's just not good business.
On a side note, if the photographer you are considering does not want you to sign a contract, maybe consider another photographer. It is important that you know what services you are agreeing to and to provide yourself with some protection should something unexpected happen.
Okay, let's get back on track. Most vendors in the wedding market require payment up front. I know for a fact that the DJ’s, Wedding Planners, Party Rentals, Venues, and the Caterers I have had the pleasure to work with all require payment up front. Why? Well, there is a dark reality to this that we don’t like to say out loud, but here it goes. What if one of you says no? Do the vendors then not get paid because one of you changed their minds. Think about all the prep work and planning that goes into a wedding. Vendors work their butts off to ensure that you have the perfect day. They even say no to other potential business in order to keep your day clear. To be told day of that the wedding is a “no go” after all that time, effort, and expenses have been put into that day is not fair to anyone involved in the background of your wedding.
Now I don’t want to end on this on such a negative tone, so let me end with some advice. If you are currently shopping for a photographer, and they are asking you for large sums of money up front, and you still do not feel comfortable after you have met them, I HIGHLY recommend you keep looking. The photographer you pick for your special day should be someone that makes you feel comfortable and someone that you feel like your can trust. You should be able to tell them all your concerns about payments, and poses, and pretty much anything in regards to your photos, and they should be able to answer all your questions and make you feel at ease. You will be spending a large chunk of your day with your photographer. Because of this you need to feel like you can trust them to handle every single thing. If you are not getting that vibe, it means you have not found the photographer that is right for you to invest in (that does not mean they are a bad photographer, or not a professional. It just means they are not the right fit.) As much as I hate to say it, the wedding photography market it saturated. Normally this is bad. In your case, as the buyer, this is an opportunity. It means you can shop around and find someone whose style, personality and business practices match you, so why not take advantage of that. It may mean you spend more time searching and meeting with photographers. But if at the end of the day it makes your feel like you have less to worry about while planning your wedding, it is totally worth it.