There is a lot of advice online and in photography groups about how much to price yourself as a wedding photographer, but equally important is the structure for spacing out the actual transactions leading up to the wedding and which percentage to charge as a retainer/deposit to secure the booking. What you decide to do can have a big impact on your cashflow and your couples ability to book you.
In this article, we are going to look at the most common payment structures that photographers use, and the pro’s and con’s of each. We’ll also explain the system we use and why we highly recommend it as the system for photographers to adopt.
The most common payment structures wedding photographers use.
No booking fee, lump sum close to or after the wedding.
This is the worst situation for both parties, but it can be quite common between ‘friends’ or ‘family’ type deals. It’s particularly bad because the neither the couple or the photography have any incentive to hold up their end of the agreement. Pro: makes starting an agreement easy. Con: almost guarantees issues later on.
25% retainer + 75% balance due before the wedding.
This one is very common in the wedding industry - and is what we had before we switched to the 3 payment structure. Sometimes the deposit is a fixed amount instead of a percentage, but usually it works out to roughly the same amount. Pro: low cost upfront for the couple, some security to the photographer (e.g. the couple are unlikely to just book someone else). Con: big bill due at the end of the contract which can sometimes cause issues for paying on time; if the wedding doesn’t go ahead, the photographer may lose out on a lot of potential income; creates a boom-bust cycle as deposits for the next season often arrive at nearly the same time as the current season balances are due.
50% retainer + 50% balance due before the wedding.
This is similar to the previous structure and has almost all the same flaws, however it has one big advantage - if the wedding doesn’t go ahead, the photographer doesn’t take as big a hit in terms of missed income. Pro: extra security for the photographer in case the wedding doesn’t go ahead for any reason. Con: higher upfront cost for the couple; Deposits for the next season and the balances for the current season all come in about the same time meaning very high income during wedding season, but low income in the off-season.
33% retainer + 33% 3-6 months before the wedding + balance due before the wedding.
This is the payment system spreads the payments out for the couple, and while helping to even out the seasonal boom-bust cycle for the photographer. It’s the system we use and that I would highly recommend all wedding photographers adopt —let us explain how it works and why we recommend it.
Why we use and recommend the three-payment structure
If you are not doing so already, I highly recommend switching to a three payments structure for wedding photography invoicing. This would mean for every wedding photography package you are sending out 3 invoices:
The first invoice is due when the couple book,
The second invoice is 6 months before the wedding,
And the final payment 1 month before the wedding.
Each invoice is 33% of the total fee (although if they want to make any changes we just add it to the final invoice). And if a couple books with less than 6 months to go to the wedding, then they just pay the first and second invoice up front.
Pros of the three-payment structure
This structure has a few really big advantages your business and for your couples:
It spreads your income more evenly throughout the year. No more lean winter months and struggling just to make ends meet.
It makes your prices more approachable. 3 x $1000 is easier to budget for than 1x $3000.
It helps your couple spread their costs out a bit: close to the wedding they will have a lot of bills coming due. If they can knock off 2/3’s of their photographer payments early, it makes that last month a little more manageable.
It protects you if the couple cancel their wedding close to the date. You still might not be able to refill the date, but at least you haven’t lost a huge amount of potential income.
It’s another point of contact with your couple, which helps build confidence that you are still there with them.
Cons of the three-payment structure
The one downside is that it may take more work to send and follow-up on invoices if you are creating invoices manually. However if you are using a management tool such as Studio Ninja then this is a non-issue because all that work is handled for you automatically. You set up the payment plan once, and let the software handle the rest.
And that’s all there is to it. Split your packages across three payments; couples love it, and it’s great for your business cash flow.