LEGALITIES



LEGALITIES and PERMISSIONS
to protect and serve your interests

Weddings, legally speaking are a binding agreement and are no different from any business relationship with another party.  It might be only for a day or possibly a weekend, but not a long-term agreement but an agreement nevertheless.  If money or goods transpires within the agreement it has important legal ramifications and you should consider all the points, giving it some careful thought, doing the what-if's, and only then only be entered.

The trap of entering agreements without due consideration, or mistrust even if it's a family member can be the last thing you need. A contract is as much for your protection as the Brides.  About families, just remember you can choose your friends, not your relatives and this is a super emotional time, things get said and sometimes don't go away.  I will never do a family event again if I live long enough.

You will want to keep the agreement pertinent to address all the possible situations, glitches, surprises, brain farts, which may show or rear their ugly heads because given a chance they will show up.   These are called "What-Ifs”.  First mentioned by Father Murphy-Lawes in his first encyclical “Wha Da Fuk” and today is doing well in this arena.  You also want to keep things very clear and in simple language on the subjects at hand, this is not a time for "he said, she said". And it is not a time for needing three other lawyers to argue the valid points.


RULES OF ENGAGEMENT 

  1. Make it as clear as a bell, you are their Photographer and the BRIDE is the sole boss at the Wedding, regardless of who is writing the check. That’s her responsibility.  Her wishes are the ones that count. 
  2. The latest legal contracts and agreements for weddings stresses and reinforces that during the time and at the venues of the wedding, I am the sole professional Photographer there. 
  3. Thus, this reduces legalities to only two people if it comes to that. You and the Bride, other parties are listened to, but don’t count. Learn this point well and spell it out in WRITING. That’s the only thing that counts and wins in COURT.
  4. It’s a two-way street and if I have NO interference, I have NO objections to the other folks shooting pictures. This is a happy compromise, for all parties. To tell them no one else can take pictures are foolish and in some cases, can cost you the job. 
  5. The giving part is you will make sure the guests get pictures if they work with you. Explain it from a standpoint of cooperation, not one of starting a conflagration or bushfire you must put out later.
  6. You are the insurance agent, not the town bully. Photographers are starting to charge by time rather than exposures because all weddings drag as adjustments are made and “going over” is part of the game. At no time lose control of what must be done.
  7. You were hired to do the job and not to have to run interference with Uncle Harry. Especially after Harry has had a few. Uncles sometimes do this.  That’s because Uncles are fathers too.  And it’s the Mothers that planned this shindig. 
  8. The key is you are the one who is responsible and that should be clear to the Bride that you are the only and official photographer for the occasion. It is not meant as a power play, it is meant to protect the Bride’s interest.
  9. Things happen quickly at Weddings especially today with all the booze, coke, meth, some grass and most good photographers can handle this changing situation. 
  10. You prefer that everyone with cameras please respond to you as to when they can take their pictures as in the case with most weddings there is a schedule to adhere to. This will make things easier especially when a wedding is running behind schedule as almost everyone for me has in past forty years.  Brides are expected to be late and it is well within their rights. Trust me.
  11. Get it in writing. "He said, she said” is great on realty court TV, that’s usually why they are there.  Oral agreements are like the game you played in school called "whisper".  By the time the rumor got around the room, it had nothing to do what was said.  That’s why it doesn’t stand up in court.
  12. K.I.S.S.  Use language both of you can understand. "Keep it simple, stupid".   The contracts, especially for an emotional driven event such as a wedding, are written in plain English. If both parties know exactly what they’re signing. 
  13. Keep the formatting simple and in brief paragraphs and you might consider as you go over each point an initial signifying they have understood what they are signing.  Sometimes, I add a box and make them initial that box.
  14. Be specific in what the client will be receiving for your services.  Any changes after the fact should be in writing and both parties sign and receive copies.
  15. Make sure all the payment details are up-front and clear. Specify how, when and the amount of the payments are to be made. 
  16. I hate being harsh and strict but court is harsh and strict and the only time in 450 plus weddings and couple hundred events I got screwed with was with my Mothers friend over a Bar Mitzvah. I got lucky and finally got paid and the story is in here.


DEPOSIT TERMS and PAYMENT
There are many variations used in the Wedding business, the two most popular being:

The Three Part Common Wedding Payment Clause

  1.      One-third upon agreement:   
  2.      One-third before the event 
  3.      One-third when the prints, books, CD’s or other is delivered. 

And the Second most common is the Half and Half.

  1.      Half deposit at the time of booking
  2.      And the second half the balance when you show up at the wedding.
  • These are the two most popular formats.  You can also do a layaway if you are booked way in advance so if they decide to call it off or shoot each other, you have something to show for your time. Layaways after the wedding are not a smart move. Annulments and divorces are too popular and this is not a good idea.
  • Some go as far as to include a provision, that states you will only perform work after the checks clear the bank. Cancelled checks can ruin your entire day, as does non-sufficient funds.
  • Contract disputes about money, are hard to fight as you will have to spend to recover in small claims court. Be specific but don't be a jerk and make too big an issue.
  • Be sure to include a short period of time and a clear paragraph on cancellation or termination. Like marriage everything doesn't always work out. Some things end as soon as the weddings over. If payments are missed, or the agreed format is not followed or changes to the venue occur, you need to be prepared. 


WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE WORTH?
Either you compete on price, or product, depends on how you sell your work:  If you do budget and sell numbers, a thousand to twelve hundred shots for just 300 dollars, that’s a lot of waste, and if you had booked 52 bookings in year, that’s a $15,000 a year job.   About half of the poverty level.  Not a good full time investment, and that why so many are weekend warriors.  Starvation is not a good business plan.’

Upping the ante, offering more, say $2300 a Wedding, that’s 120,000 dollars a year.  The converse is true, the $300 shooter says he only gave them four hours of his time, that’s all he had, and back to his day job. Only about 50% are happy with this as they must do all the post processing and grunt work.


THOUGHTS
I can tell you several things good pro’s in this business do.  Think like a soldier.   Machine guns and snipers.  A good photographer can handle both.  Get the volume when the situation presents itself and get in sniper mode when you get the candid’s, those shots are usually more spontaneous, people go crazy over them.

Even some of the nuts doing strange things. But do not put then into albums or presentation. Put them into a separate folder explaining you are not a judge, it’s the Brides choice.  This approach wins points actually showing you care about what happened there.

A few good shots sell more than a bucket of dead fish. Spend some time sorting sifting and rejecting images that mean little to anyone involved.  It's a people game, we don't need 45 shots of the sneakers the bride wore under the dress since she never ever wore heels before either or the hubby is shorter, or it's going to be a long day.

The Chinese General Tsun said knowing the mind of the enemy is the key to victory, knowing the terrain and the enemy's moves is the process by which you win.  
Get to know the couple, their emotions, passions and idiosyncrasies, and the terrain you will be operating in. 

On the introduction page, I explained what I had learned from the Carnival people.  Get to know who the stick is.  The stick is the one who wields the checkbook (the stick) and makes the real decisions.  Know who are the key players so you do not have to be arbitrating with those who really can't make the call.  This is critical if there is a meltdown at the wedding.

Gear checks, make sure you are at 100% and have backups. Don’t miss the money shot because one of those AA cells was dead when you swapped them.  Blanks are a poor choice in combat.   Be on time or earlier, deliver on time or earlier. You will be alone because 75% of brides and Weddings never start on time.

Price yourself based on the actual components: Understanding your market, competition, financial condition of your clients.
Consider the time and effort using special Photoshop work, table books and so forth.  The best way to charge more is do great work and develop a reputation.

Shop the local competition to look at their work. Pick them up at their studio for a lunch so you can get an idea of what he or she is doing.  Have a circle of associates that will honestly critique your work. It hurts sometimes,  but in the end, you will heal and do better work.

 

PRICING YOUR SELF IN THE MARKET
A couple wants to get married. They lay out their plans and the cost of the wedding peripherals comes up and that includes flowers, reception, the DJ, other entertainment, limos, the photography and / or videography. They start interviewing photographers, shopping around and weeks later they are confused.

Some compared the experience to buying a car and they will tell you they would rather go to the dentist than buy a car.  We decided to put it to the test.  Asking those folks buying a car, what criteria do you feel is most important in a choice of what you buy and where you buy?  

he answers were surprising.   Where to buy was based on closeness or proximity to the dealership and product reputation.  I like the product and I want to be close to the dealership.  Pricing came in later.  

There is a new game in town now:  Do it yourself car sales. No salesman, just like when you see twenty cellphones at a wedding.  Things might be changing.

In each area wedding shooter prices are like buying a car, cars go from basic transportation to high end sophisticated luxury cars.  In a comparison, pricing a wedding photographer is similar, with both low-end, low-cost DVD presenters to full boat table top books with careful editing and story-telling albums.  

Just like no two cars are alike, no two weddings can be the same.  Similar but not the same. This goes for the photographer too.  No two photographers are the same, they are separated by style, attitude, impression, structure and sheer talent and interpretation.  He should be flexible in what he offers and there is no such thing as one size fits all.

Read on, this is a stretch but not a big one for the first part of the question.

 

NUMBER ONE ANSWER
Again, it was, not the best price.  People wanted the fairest price for the quality of the work done.  It was not the lowest price, nor the cheapest package of accessories, the answer was the fairest deal they could negotiate.  About fourth or fifth on the list was the actual price.  Confidence, in the professional doing their wedding.

But some of the photographers we interviewed in high traffic and shopping areas seem to think it’s all about pricing and that determines what they do to make the deal.  What they should be doing is thinking what they can do to improve their deal.  It is just a wrong impression they have of their industry, very foolish thinking. 


PRIME ANSWER
For research work I did for Chrysler Corp, The prime answer was from a dealer base of 500 customers we interviewed and there was a commonality in their answers.  Fairness, things like “I didn’t want to pay more than what the others paid for it.”  And if you had equal deals what would determine who you would buy from?   Proximity or familiarity, experience and reputation.

Highly competitive businesses are like that. All the customer is looking for in the case of buying a car, the second largest investment they will make was:  how close they were to the dealer.  The proximity to the dealership was a first choice amongst many which proves people like to deal locally with community spirit.

Looking at your prospective clients, they are looking to be treated equally.  The winners in the long run in the Wedding Photography business are those who treat it professionally and run their business for the long run. The bad shooters, low-ball advertisers (the $100 Wedding for 20 minutes and gone) the ad bumpers and sellers, sure made it tougher for the real people interested in a long-time career and a business they enjoy doing.

Listen, this is a business with no policing, guidelines, few requirements, rules of engagement (pun) and various levels of workmanship and interpretation.   And it really doesn’t matter what part of the world you are from. Whether you live in Australia, the US, Europe, or Sweden the problem is basically the same all over. It’s so diverse 

It is a business of full timers, part-timers, professionals and amateurs. It has members who play by the book and those who never have nor will read the book and some who burnt books.  It has those, who are good savvy wise business people who have legitimate registered businesses with taxes, licenses, and regulations adhered to. And some folks who run it from the trunk of their car and pay no sales tax though they collected it from the bridal couple. 

It has those with major investments in time, finances, facilities and training and those certainly participating with nothing more than a camera and a small knowledge of photography.   It will on occasion disappoint the best of detectives. The most lacking thing in the industry is the lack of professionalism, no organization though they have tried has addressed this since there are no legal standards or licensing. Probably there never will be since anyone can call themselves anything they want. 

 

THE RESULTS THAT BRIDES WANTED
So at the Bridal fest in Tampa we asked similar questions to potential Brides. They wanted good quality work expressing the love, warmth, solemnity, beauty, of the most important day in their life. They wanted you to tell their story.  The second concern was the three R’s reputation, respect and reliability.   The answer we received most from photographers we asked as to what was important was price. 

Close to the Chrysler Neilson survey answer’s for buying a car.  While everyone is worried about what the other guy is charging, few mention what they will do to improve their first impression on the first contact with the customer, future client, potential consumer.  

Good business practice tells you your ads are for getting the interest or herding the business your way where an accurate assessment of what needs to be done ...can be done in the proper atmosphere. May I suggest a studio, office, showroom, place of business. 


KNOW THY COMPETITOR
I think it’s somewhat important to know what your competitors charge, but it’s not the basis of your business. Sometimes there is no other way to find out than to ask them.

If you tell them over the phone or in an email, you’re a photographer looking at pricing most likely he won’t tell you, so I don’t see any other option than to ask like this.  

Invite them to lunch to discuss their craft.  A little flattery, you like their work, might even work together, etc.  Learn what they do better is more important than what they charge. When you do it better, the world finds you. And they will brag and enhance their story so take it with grains of salt two shots of Tequila, Cointreau and Lime Juice.

 

WEBSITES

Are better used or spent using the space to show quality and create an interest rather than going for the close before the door is opened. Fewer and fewer photographers are posting prices because of the confusion over the different pricing methods. The most common approach is...              WEDDINGS FROM $-LOWEST PRICE PACKAGE

 


CURRENT PRICING OPTIONS 

  1.  Pricing may be expressed in packages. *****
  2. Some quote by, by hourly, or day booking.  ****
  3. Some promise fees based on shot count.   ***
  4. Some explain and expose their ancillary help charges, some just build it in.   *****
  5. Some have a base charge and then add for overtime and extras.   ***
  6. It’s apples to peaches just like car parts. It’s a Ford and a Chevy alternator, but they are not interchangeable, they just don’t fit each other, and some zillion other things thrown in.
  7. Stop worrying what the other guy is charging.  *****
  8. What is he doing that he is charging for and what you are doing to make it a better product.  ******
  9. Do you explain or offer plans custom suited for the client’s needs? If not look in the mirror and you will see a fool.


DON’T PLAY DODGEBALL
Answer questions with a question.  ” What were you specifically interested in having done, ask questions about location and size. The responses and being a good listener will tell you where she or he has been shopping. Ask what special services did they have in mind? 

  1. It’s all about value received: Mainly does the value received equal (=) the dollars (yen, gold coins, marks, francs, chickens and goats) charged for the services.
  2. This is secondary in the couple’s mind believe it or not. The primary goal for them is good quality work.  By surveys we have conducted at Bridal shows. We asked them,  and they were there from all walks of life and financial health and good quality work was the winner. 

 

HOW MUCH IS MUCH?
What is your goal when it comes to pricing your work?  As much as you can, or undercut the competition, steal the show, get greedy?  Or will you base your work so that you make as much as you can within reason and delivering a product and service that exceeds your customer’s expectations.  

I’ll defer again and refer to the car business.  There are just as many good salesmen as there are the other kind.  Salesmen with reputations of taking advantage of weak or poor negotiators or naive shoppers usually don’t stay at a place too long, it catches up with them. 

Given the opportunity they will literally take off the customers heads, expressed as “I just buried them or what a score or I made a ton of gross! and so forth”.  For some reason, it catches up with them and they don’t build a good following.  They leave, they go elsewhere and start over.

You should be aiming for that middle ground and a win-win for the business for you to grow enough to secure your future and vision, to achieve all the objectives and sustain the necessary growth you forecasted in your business plan.  But make sure your business plan includes the following real costs:

Labor, human resource requirements, as in new employees, insurance and pensions, parts and supplies for the expansion, and profits are needed to compensate for the unknown factor, Murphy’s Law, and market factor.
Some loss's or adverse conditions exist.  Slush funds, holdbacks, what ifs are protection for inevitable future losses, costs and problems in need of financial solutions that are risks needing capital, the cost of borrowing money