Ever wonder why your photographer charges a retainer fee?
If you’ve ever hired a professional photographer, you’ve likely been sent a session agreement or contract and been asked to pay a retainer. Retainer rates vary from business to business, but I charge a $100 retainer for regular sessions, and $750 for weddings. Most of the time, it says the retainer is non-refundable. My session agreement states that the retainer is non-refundable (yes, even if the wedding gets postponed, or cancelled)
Seems a little unfair, huh? And as a client, I totally see why. But there’s actually a really good reason behind why photographers, and many other schedule-based businesses, are charging retainers to reserve your appointment.
When I first started my business, I would set up a meeting with every client beforehand…
at a coffee shop or something to get to know them, make sure we were a good fit, talk about their vision for their session and go over the agreement and collect the retainer. The problem was, I got stood up a lot for these meetings, and they’d ask me, “Can we just pay and sign on Saturday at the session” I would say sure! I’d show up at the session location about 20-30 minutes early and wait…and wait and wait only to call them and have them ignore my call completely or send me a “Sorry, we have to reschedule” text.
No lie, one family did that 3 times before I finally said, “I’m sorry I am no longer available. Please hire someone else.”
I decided it was time I started charging a retainer fee. The fee goes towards your total, but that I retain should you cancel. Because here’s the thing, when you book your session, your photographer reserves that date and time just for you. That means they are likely turning away other clients for that same time, and they are taking time away from their family to photograph yours. While that’s the nature of the job, many sessions do take place on weekends, so while photography may seem glamorous, it’s a lot of busy weekends away.
For weddings, most couples book me 12-18 months in advanced.
As soon as I have all the info from my brides, I take the date off the table. And no lie, it always seems like all inquiries want the same wedding date because as soon as they book I get 2 or 3 more inquiries for that same date that I now have to turn away. Photographers, y’all know what I’m talking about right?
So as a business model, you can see why if a wedding gets cancelled it can mean bad news for a photographer who is relying on this job for their income. If for any reason your wedding gets cancelled, your photographer has to account for and offset the losses their business incurred from you cancelling your wedding. Remember, they’ve stopped marketing this date as available, so they’ve probably turned away other couples who were interested in this date.
Wedding photographers have two seasons; wedding season (the busy season) and booking season (the slow season). The odds are slim to none that they’ll be able to re-book that date, and any other couples that were turned away have booked someone else (you know since we said we were unavailable).
Photographers spend a lot of time before the actual wedding investing in your date.
E-mail communication, in person meetings, timeline assistance, engagement sessions, client gifts, coordinating with your wedding planner (among other things) keep us busy. We don’t just show up on the wedding day with a camera and no idea what’s coming. We invest in your experience, and those costs were still incurred if a couple decides last minute to cancel their event. Retainers also encourage couples not to cancel because they found someone cheaper, or decided to hire a friend who is just starting their business and will do it for $200. Oh trust me, it’s happened.
Just yesterday actually, I spoke with a photog friend who had a couple cancel 2 weeks before their wedding. She was contacting them about their final installment (which was 2 weeks late) and they were ignoring her. Finally she called the bride, who said “Sorry we’ve decided to cancel because my cousin is starting her photography business and she’s doing it for us as a wedding gift. You can mail us a check to __” and my friend was stunned. Some might not see an issue with this, but what if your boss just said, “Hey don’t come in tomorrow because I found someone who will do your job at half your salary”. That’s basically what just happened to my friend.
This #bossbabe handled it like a champ.
She explained that all their money paid until this point was non-refundable. Think about it – she met with them for their timeline AND put it all together for them, shot and delivered their engagement session, sent them vendor referrals and more.
She explained that being 12 days out from the wedding there was no way she would be able to re-book another wedding for the same date and sent a cancellation agreement. It’s unfortunate when things like this happen, but it is a risk of being in the wedding industry. Protecting your business and your financial security is important for any job, not just photographers. It’s the nature of the industry we’ve chosen to work in.
A job is a job, and everyone has their own way to make ends meet. It’s something Trevor and I used to talk about because I “sleep in” and he gets up early for work. I still get up early, but he’s up earlier…not that it’s a competition (but really he thinks it is)
I’ll be the first to say I did not think photography was a “real job” but here I am, able to supplement my salary at my “real job” with my business, and it feels awesome!
So just remember, you’re supporting a local business when you hire a local photographer. You’re allowing a mom to stay at home and raise her babies, you’re giving a family the ability to supplement their income, or a young adult the freedom to finally purchase their first car! Read more about my journey here!
And if you ever have questions about an agreement, just ask your photographer! They probably have a good reason as to why their policies are the way they are!