When I first began to keep this journal, it was with the intention of using it to provide a step-by-step guide to how I prepared for and executed a specific wedding – a wedding that I shot on June 23rd, 2007. However, since the goal was to give as much insight, as possible, to newer wedding photographers, by showing my experiences, it soon became obvious that a single wedding was but a snapshot.
Consequently, I decide that I could share more useful information if I used the June 23rd wedding as but a guide and create a composite wedding. The result, in the following paragraphs, gives the reader the benefit of my 35 years as a wedding photographer. More specifically, it explains the procedures that have followed since I converted to digital photography almost six years ago.
During that time, I averaged about 40 weddings each year, up until I had a series of strokes, which have forced me into semi-retirement. While I am fine, now, and probably could resume full-time wedding photography, I prefer to enjoy a slower paced shooting schedule and now accept wedding jobs only by referral.
In the article that follows, I will take you through every step of the wedding job, from the time that I put it on my schedule though delivery of the finished album.
I will explain what I do, how I do it, and why I do it. While this is only a blog post, I will sometimes refer to more detailed articles or reports on specific topics. Originally, I intended to publish the entire article at one time. However, what was expected to be a simple journal seems to have grown to be a little longer, and more in-depth. Consequently, I will post segments, as time allows.
So ... are you ready?
Good. The first post deals with finances – it’s called the Deposit.
If you make money based on a service that you provide, then the calendar represents your inventory. As a wedding photographer, your inventory consists, primarily, of 52 Saturdays per year. Once you schedule a wedding, for a particular Saturday, you reduce your inventory by one. If, for some reason, the wedding is canceled, and you have not been paid, your income is reduced by some amount. Consequently, you need to develop a process that will protect your income. You see, if a job is cancelled, and you cannot replace it, you car payment, mortgage, and the price of milk and bread do not decrease.
For me to remove a date from my inventory, I require a non-refundable deposit of 50%. Since my typical fee for covering a wedding is $3,000, I take a $1,500 payment to reserve the date. Normally, I am booked from 18 months to one year in advance. The balance ($1,500) is due 30 days before the ceremony.
I shot my first wedding in 1972 and in those years, only twice have I broken that rule. On one occasion, the mother of the groom asked if they could pay the balance the day of the ceremony. This was about 2002 or 2003. I had never been pressed on this, before, but had a good feel about the family, so I agreed – after all, I would have all the files, so I could ‘hold them as ransom’. Anyway, the groom’s father paid me, that evening, and gave me a $100 tip! By the way, most clients realize that you are in your own business, and don’t give tips. On several occasions, when I have had an intern with me, the client has offered a tip, which I always give directly to the intern.
On a second occasion, a bride contacted me to shoot her wedding. This was a last minute thing – about 2 months before the ceremony. It had been moved to California from where the family lived, in Utah. I had shot the wedding of two of her sisters, several years earlier. She did not want ceremony photos – only the reception – for religious reasons. I gave her a lower price and she promised to mail a check. On several occasions, she said the check was ‘in the mail’. It never arrived, so I called her father – who had paid for the previous two jobs. He said that if she didn’t pay, he would cover it. Considering my history with him, I didn’t worry about it, and it all worked out.
That’s it – in nearly 800 weddings, those are the only two were I didn’t get my fees, in full, before the event.
Photographers – especially those new to the wedding business – sometimes ask what happens if the wedding is cancelled. The answer depends on several things.
The purpose of the deposit is to compensate me for removing a date from my inventory. As I mentioned, earlier: If they cancel, and I cannot replace the job (because I have stopped marketing that date, or may have even turned down other requests for that date), my living expenses do not decrease. So here’s my rule-of-thumb: If I can replace the canceled event with another one, I will give a refund. If the wedding date is changed and I am open on the new date, I will transfer the deposit (this is very generous, because I have now allowed someone to tie up two days with a single deposit). If the wedding is canceled or postponed due to military orders (ask for a copy of the deployment orders), I will refund everything.
Once, I was hired by the older sisters of two 18-year-olds who where about to elope. The sisters convinced them to have a small ceremony, and the family arranged for a beachside ceremony and rented hotel banquet room for a reception. Three days before the ceremony, the couple backed out. On one hand, I was not going to be able to schedule a wedding in three days. On the other hand, it wasn’t the sister’s fault that these kids called off the wedding. The hotel wasn’t willing to give back the deposit, and neither was I. However, I know the banquet captain at the hotel and we agreed to transfer the money to another date. The girl’s father was about to celebrate his 50th birthday. We held a family reunion/birthday party about six weeks later (on a week night) and applied the money to that.
It’s your business, so you can run it anyway you like. Just remember: It is a business!