Do wedding photographers get paid upfront?

Most wedding videographers and photographers require a set deposit when you hire them. Wedding season is a busy time, and a deposit secures the vendor’s services for your wedding date. It also protects the vendor if the couple changes their mind at the last minute, and they can’t find a new booking and lose work for the day. The deposit may be anywhere from 20 per cent to 50 per cent of the agreed-upon total price. Always get a written confirmation that your deposit has been received. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

The remainder of the wedding videography and photography bill may be due the week before your wedding or on the day of the wedding. Other vendors may require a second payment immediately before the wedding, and a third and final payment after the wedding video or photos are delivered. Each vendor has its policies, so before hiring, be sure to read, understand and agree to payment protocols. There is no requirement for tipping wedding videographers or photographers, but if you do want to list them, the end of the reception is the appropriate time. 

When Do Photographers Usually Get Paid? 

Like most things in photography…it depends.

What type of photography you do, what your business model is, and what kind of clients you deal with answering this question. But in general, you should be collecting as much of the payment upfront as you feel comfortable with.

We recommend 50% upfront and 50% on delivery for most shoots (family portraits, senior shoots, etc.), but don’t ask for so much for a wedding if you’re a high-dollar photographer. 

This is a great start, but to run your business effectively, you need to know why that is a practical approach and modify it based on your own needs. So let’s look at a few specifics, starting with the big mistake many photographers make that can cost them a lot of money.

Deposit vs. Session Fee

Do wedding photographers get paid upfront?

This is the big mistake that most photographers make. No matter the type of shoot, you should collect a fee upfront to hold the date. 

This fee is NOT a deposit because, in many states, a “deposit” is always refundable.

Instead, you are charging them a fee to hold the date they want. You are being compensated with money, and in return, you agree to stop advertising to others for that date. You are giving up other business opportunities to give that time slot to someone. That has value to you, and you need to charge for doing that.

In contract law terms, this is a bargained-for exchange of value that both sides have agreed to. Not just a deposit paid for services not yet rendered. You should take some time to familiarise yourself with your state or country’s laws regarding this or consult an attorney if you don’t know where to find this information. 

More importantly, you want to make this clear in a contract with your client. In most (possibly all) cases, no matter what the law is about deposits, you can make it explicit to assure that the initial fee is non-refundable. This is a bargained-for agreement for you to stop advertising your services for a particular day. 

Of course, you are free to make the terms more client-friendly if you think it will help your business. It is common to see words that allow for the fee to be refunded (or partially refunded) if they cancel early enough (usually specified in the contract as a specific date or a particular amount of time before the shoot date). You want to make sure that the time frame is enough for you to fill in the date with another shoot so you can keep your business running.

Wedding/Event Photographers

Wedding and event photographers are being paid to cover an event (and frequently do some on-site portrait photography). So your payment structure needs to reflect this aspect of your business. Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered. For a wedding or event, you most certainly need some payment before the event. There are a few reasons for that.

Holding The Date

Weddings and other events are usually booked long in advance.

It would help if you kept this in mind when structuring your booking fee. Do you usually book weddings more than six months ahead of time? Then you better not be giving full refunds to people that cancel a month in advance because you know the chances of refilling that time slot with the last minute wedding is pretty slim. On the other hand, if you shoot different types of events and know that you can get another gig with 15 days notice, you can afford to be more generous with the grace period.

The way we would suggest structuring this would be a three-part payment plan. Whatever the full payment for your wedding package would be, divide that into three.

  • The first payment should be due upon booking.
  • The second payment should be due a few months before the event.
  • The third payment should be due after the event but before you ordering any prints or albums.

The first two payments should be enough to cover your expenses and make enough profit to keep the lights on in your studio. Then you can require the third payment before spending any money on prints or albums. For a wedding, that probably means sending a reminder invoice after the wedding and expecting to be paid when they get back from the honeymoon (or sooner if a family member has paid for the wedding).

Avoid collecting payment on the wedding day. They have enough to worry about that day, and showing up telling them you need your money or no photos is a quick way to get bad reviews and no referrals. You want to be the one helping them avoid stress on that day, not causing it.

This is a little different for corporate events because they expect to be writing out checks to all the vendors on the day of the event, but you should still be doing it in a way that makes for a good client experience.

If you planned out the payments properly, then you shouldn’t have to be pushy with that third payment beyond some gentle reminders because you have more than covered expenses up to this point. That leads to a good client experience and probably more referrals.

Covering Costs

You will have costs to cover an event or wedding and need to account for those costs.

Even if this is your first wedding and your business bank account is currently zero, you shouldn’t be going into debt or using credit cards to get what you need to cover the event. You can read more about building up your kit as a professional here.

You need to look into things like second shooters, assistants, permits if there are on location portraits included in the day, specialised gear that you need for this event, and anything else you need to produce good work for this event. It would help if you had a general idea of these costs before you even meet with the client and incorporate them into your structured fee. Check out our range of wedding photography for your wedding day.

Client Commitment

This is an aspect of pre-payment that a lot of people overlook. Until you have money in your hands, you don’t have a shoot booked.

Sure, you could have a contract that requires them to pay eventually, and if they back out last minute, you can sue them in small claims court for the fee. But the court filing fee alone, not to mention the time spent, the bad publicity, and the potential for lawyer’s fees, all make this a terrible business model to rely on.

Once someone hands over some money, you know they are committed to having you as their photographer. They have some skin in the game at that point. Many people might sign a piece of paper saying they want you to shoot their wedding even if they aren’t sure, but very few people will hand over some cash if they aren’t sure.

Portrait Photographers

One of the best things about portrait photography is that you can get very creative with your business model and marketing because a portrait shoot itself does not typically require a considerable time or money investment (there are exceptions, of course).

For a portrait session, you really should have a “session fee” that must be paid in full when booking. How much that initial fee is and what to include in it will depend on running your business. Don’t let payment collection get in the way of a good client experience.

Digital Delivery Business Model

Do you give your client the digital files from the image and leave them at that? You’re probably missing out on a lot of income, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

If you are giving the client all the digital images, you should be charging a significantly higher session fee than a photographer that sells prints (more on that below). You can break it up into a booking fee and a final payment due before delivery, or you can have them pay it all upfront.

The deciding factor should be figuring out how much you need per session to be fairly compensated for the time you spent shooting and editing. That should be your session.

Print Sales Business Model

I’ve already written a few articles on the benefits of print sales and in-person sales so that we won’t go into that a lot here, but I don’t think there is any debate that it’s the best way to go for portrait photographers.

As a photographer that earns income from print sales, you can afford to be more creative with your session fee. You can make it lower or even give away sessions for free, knowing that once people see your fantastic work, you’ll make sales on the back end. Have your fee structured as a session fee that includes a credit towards prints and require a client to pay the entire session fee upfront. Do it this way for two reasons.

First, I want clients to feel like they can get all they need with the session fee. The print credit included with the session fee is slightly more than I charge for two 8×10 prints. So if someone just paid the session fee and used the credit, they would feel they received a complete product. I don’t want people coming away from a session with me feeling like they were tricked into spending more than the session fee to get anything.

But second, it is structured to ensure they are in the mindset of buying prints from the very beginning. During the initial meeting, talk about print sales. Every step of the way, the client is reminded that the ultimate goal is print sales, and the pricing structure is part of this.

Commercial/Headshot/Fashion/Real Estate Photographers

This is a vast category, but I put them all together because these genres usually deal with digital images exclusively rather than prints. More often than not, these types of photographers are compensated either by the hour, by the job, per impression, or a combination of all three.

I don’t want to spend that much time on these types of shoots because the terms can vary widely and are mostly dependent on the bargaining power of the client hiring you. You might be able to negotiate more favourable terms with a local store than you would with a large corporation. But the general lessons above still hold. Make sure you have your expenses covered and are compensated for the time spent.

When And How To Collect Payment For A Session Or Wedding

Do wedding photographers get paid upfront?

COLLECTING PAYMENT AFTER SESSIONS

When I first started my photography business, I waited to receive payments until after the gallery was delivered to my clients. I think it was because the business side of it all felt new, and I wasn’t 100% secure in my pricing yet. It felt almost wrong to ask for any payment until after I delivered what I had promised. I had to learn the hard way that without cost, clients can easily back out of session obligations last minute, and after dealing with too many last-minute cancellations, I decided I had enough. The only way to work with more clients who valued my time was to require payment upfront. Wild Romantic Photography has the best range of services of wedding photography Yarra Valley. Check them out here.

COLLECTING PAYMENT DAY OF THE SESSION

I switched to receiving payment the day of the session but still had to deal with the last-minute cancellations. It always felt a little strange “talking business” and collecting money from clients right before shooting their session. When I work with my clients, I don’t want to talk about business or collect payment. I want to focus on creating art with them. I want them to remember how much fun we had working together. I don’t want them to remember having to write me a check.

HOW TO AVOID LAST-MINUTE CANCELLATION OR POSTPONED PAYMENTS?

For years now, I have required to be paid in full two weeks before their session. Most clients pay in full when they decide to book me officially. For weddings, it must be paid one month before their wedding date.

WHAT CHANGED?

I did. I started valuing my time and decided that the only way to run my business was to require some payments before the session. Since then, I have never had to deal with a cancellation or worry of putting many hours of work into something without getting paid. I also get to put the focus on making my clients feel special the day of their session. I want that day to be 100% about them and their session. I love it, and my clients love it.

READY TO REQUIRE PAYMENT UPFRONT

The easiest way for this to happen is to change your booking process. What I like to say is this.

“To book your session, I require a $___ deposit; this will officially hold your session date and time with your studio photography. The remaining balance is due two weeks before your session”.

It doesn’t need to be complicated; it just needs to be straightforward and easy to understand. The key is to be clear in what you expect so your clients are on the same page.

If you offer in-person sales of some sort, you can require payment for the session upfront or even have a minimum amount due to that will go towards choosing the perfect prints, albums or canvases. This process works for any photographer regardless of the sessions or packages you offer.

Remember that you’re a photographer and spend countless hours working, not just shooting but working on all aspects of your business. Value your time, yourself, and understand that it’s perfectly okay to require payments upfront. At Wild Romantic, we have the best wedding photographer in Mornington Peninsula to capture every single moment on your wedding day.

Questions to Ask a Wedding Photographer

Logistics

  • Are you the photographer who will shoot my wedding? If so, will you have any assistants/second-shooters with you on that day?
  • What type of equipment do you use? Do you have backup equipment?
  • What about a backup plan if you are unable to shoot my wedding for some reason?
  • Are you photographing other events on the same day as mine?
  • How will you (and your assistants) be dressed?
  • TIP: The photographer and his/her staff should look professional and fit in with your event style. Jeans don’t quite fit a black-tie aesthetic, kwim?
  • Is it okay if other people take photos while you’re taking pictures?
  • Have you ever worked at my wedding venue before? If not, do you plan to check it out in advance?
  • What time will you arrive at the site?
  • If my event lasts longer than expected, will you stay? Is there an additional charge?
  • Do you have liability insurance?

Pricing + Packages

  • How much of a deposit do you require, and when is it due?
  • Do you offer payment plans?
  • What is your refund/cancellation policy?
  • Do you charge a travel fee, and what does that cover?
  • What packages do you offer? This question covers things like:
    • Are your packages customisable?
    • How many hours are included in each box?
    • Do you have engagement photos in your packages? Rehearsal dinners?
  • Can you put together slideshows to be shown during the cocktail hour/reception?
  • Do you provide retouching, colour adjustment, or other corrective services?
  • How long after the wedding will I get the proof? Will they be viewable online?
  • How many final images should I expect to receive?
  • Do you help with creating an album? Can I see some album designs?
  • What is the ordering process, and how long after I order my photos/album will I get them?
  • Will you give me the digital negatives or unlimited downloads so I can make my prints?

Takeaways

Get paid upfront. Your time has value, and if you are going to commit that time to someone, there is nothing wrong with asking to be compensated not just for the time itself but also for setting that time aside for someone. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.