Friday, July 22, 2011

Guest Blog: Shooting Weddings Part V: Contracts & Business Practices

Timothy Lusk is back to share some more of his pearls of wisdom on the subject of Wedding Photography. This is the last of five articles he’ll be sharing on this topic, so I hope you enjoyed his series!

B&H Wedding Photographers Buyers Guide

This is for everyone who has invested in a DSLR over the past few years and has either thought of shooting weddings or has been asked by a friend or family member due to their thought of either saving money or because the bride or groom isn’t aware of what goes into shooting a wedding.

There are plenty of questions that should be running through your head and asking not only the bride or groom, but yourself.

  1. Where is the wedding? Is it in a church? Is it an outdoor wedding? If it’s outside, is the wedded couple under a trellis or something that will produce shade?
  2. What are the expectations of the photographs? Doe the bride and groom “just” want the typical list? Is there a photographer that they love his or her style, but don’t have the budget for them?
  3. What can be expected of the event? Is it a quick ceremony on a beach? Is it a full day from sunrise to sunset and into the night?
  4. What equipment do you have in your bag? Do you need to rent any additional gear?
  5. Are you getting paid for doing this? If so, how much is your time worth to you? Are you thinking of this being a start to your wedding photography business, or is it going to be a one-time only offer?

Asking yourself these questions, can help you decide one of two things. Either you’ll move forward and step up to the plate, or you’ll play it cool and kindly decline.

For other articles in this series, please follow these links:


I want to take this last part of my Wedding Photography overview to discuss contracts. I am not going to just copy and paste a contract to review it and hand over the content needed… that’s too easy. A lot of what I have learned and refined over the years is thanks to a workshop I took under Mike Colon back at the WPPI conference in 2010.

To start, there are a few things that you should always note when starting to put together a good contract for weddings.


I’m listing this category first for a couple reasons. The first being, I want to stress that you charge for your services. I have never done a wedding for free–never. Yes, I’ve done one on a budget for $300, but that was not only my first wedding, but by charging for the wedding, I felt confident that it was something I could continue doing at a reasonable cost and not feel like I’m not charging what I feel I should be.

To start, I always ask for 50 percent deposit, remainder due on or directly before the wedding. Why? This might seem odd to not have even done the service yet, and still get paid the full amount. I grew up being a Boy Scout and have found that with the timeline of post production, etc. you have this notice to yourself (voice in your head) to finish the work on the photos and get them into a gallery for your client to view and buy.

Next, don’t sell yourself short. Before presenting your first contract, make a list of everything that you might need to be covering for that day. Gas for traveling, any rented gear (I’ve used [see the discount coupon code page]), any services you might use (ie web hosting), or memberships you might belong to (ie WPPI). By doing this, at the end of the wedding and handing off the photos, etc. you’ll see that you’ve succeeding in making a profit. The first handful of weddings I shot, I was putting half of the cost of my services into renting equipment and lenses for the wedding. And while it was well worth the cost of doing so for the quality of the images, if I was to go back to those, I would probably have a separate fee just to cover the cost of the rented gear and/or charge more per wedding to start.


No matter your cost, make sure you structure it in such a way to allow your client to understand a per hour cost if that helps them understand how the cost of a photographer is justifiable for a full day. You don’t have to directly note $200 per hour in the contract, but if you’re wanting to charge $200 per hour, make sure to that you base a 4-hour or an 8-hour day off of it.

Also, make sure that you monitor your time. If you’re shooting an 8 hour wedding and it goes into the 10+ hour evening, you want to have a clause that states something similar to “…15 minutes after the agreed end time, we will start to bill hourly in 15 minute increments at a rate of $200 per hour…”. Now you can be kind and if you see you’ve only had to spend an extra 30 minutes at the wedding, it’s probably silly to charge them, but if you’ve continued to capture images (per the clients request) beyond the end time, you’ll definitely want to get your money’s worth.


I typically tell my client that I need 2-3 weeks (closer to 3) for editing. By doing this you help your client know that to expect the photos the next day isn’t going to happen, but at the same time (if you can manage your time well), you might be able to deliver earlier than expected.

First thing. Take a break. Ok, maybe go ahead and back up your cards, etc. to your hard drives or DVDs. But honestly, don’t dive into post production for a day or two. Let yourself rest from the event. Even though you know you’ve captured some great moments and want to view them immediately, I’ve found that I am more in tune with post production when I’ve mentally rested from the task of shooting for 8+ hours in a day.

The next task item is what I refer to as “please the bride”. I quickly go through the images and find 30-50 shots I think are worthy of my portfolio. I edit those, export them at a limited resolution with a watermark and upload them to Facebook, Flickr, the blog, and any other social web site I choose to help with marketing later on.

On to doing the work… I shoot upwards of 2500 images (if not more) during a wedding. Fortunately, my wife is a second shooter when we’re doing these gigs. The first step I take is importing (referencing) the images in Aperture (or Lightroom). I add meta data such as the names of the clients, venue, subjects, city, state, etc. that will help add to the library. I then go through all the images and break them into “albums” to relate them to the post wedding, getting ready, portraits, ceremony, reception, details and anything else I find is a chunk of the day. This helps the editing process seem less daunting. From there, my wife will help me throughout the first week to narrow down the images per category and we finally end up with 500 images or so.

After doing the detailed adjustments of color, etc. I upload them to Pictage [Ron’s favorite site is Zenfolio]  and it will usually cover a two-week editing process which results in a happy bride because I’ve delivered earlier than expected. Yes, this is an “ideal” structure. If you’re doing a 40 hour job on top of this, I would easily predict 3 weeks will be needed as I have been there myself.


I have a few options the client can use. Pictage is a great online gallery with ordering services. There are multiple plans to choose from and based on the sales per wedding or portrait session, they will cut you a check for a percentage as well as cover the cost of the monthly dues if you’ve made enough in sales that month.

I will upload the selected photos via categories to allow the client to better sort through them this way. When you send you client the invite to Pictage (which I tend to do months before the wedding), they can invite friends and family to sign up for a notification and a small discount off their order.

Another service is album design. I have a great company out of New Zealand that I use. Queensberry has a very high quality structure as well as being archival with cotton pages and a great leather backing along with multiple sizes to your liking. While they are not cheap, the cost of them is very apparent. With a one-time investment, the company sends you sample albums to show off what the client will be gaining by investing in an album through you.

And finally, assuming you’ve built this into the cost of your contract as well, always be willing to provide your client with a CD of the images. This is the most common request, and don’t be offended by it as they have paid for them. The only thing you might suggest or recommend is either having them go through a professional printer and frame some of the select shots to hang in their home. On that note, at the very least, if they choose to only display them on Facebook to request they link them to you via a copyright notice or displaying your web site below the images.


Remember, these a more or less guidelines and things to remember when piecing together a contract. Even if you’re shooting your family members wedding or a long time friend, always have a contract to protect yourself from unwanted requests and needs. I have shot all of my weddings knowing that I have a contract in place to allow me to feel I have done a service and can continue with my life after the job is complete to not have random requests coming from a bride I shot 5 years ago for an 8×10 image.


I’d like to thank Timothy Lusk for taking the time to be a guest on my blog. I hope you enjoyed his series! You can find more of Tim’s work on his web site at He also has his own blog so if you enjoyed his articles here you can follow more like it on his blog.


All articles in this series contain links to external sites which may result in a commission for purchases made. Thanks for supporting this blog by using the links!

Timothy Lusk also works at Microsoft Corporation where we both have day jobs in different groups unrelated to photography.

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The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

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