Why I Hate Free Engagement Shoots

Would clients actually pay for a pre-wedding shoot?

Free Engagement Shoot

So who did it? Which idiot first thought it was a good idea to offer free engagement shoots as an incentive to book? I need to know who you are. Who was patient zero? Must it be someone out there? Or maybe they’ve gone bust and gone back to work in a call centre. I remember the days when photographers used to get paid to take pictures and so could make a living instead of doing it “because I love taking pictures” and because “I am so passionate about photography.” 

The reason I ask is that this year I was blackmailed by a client into agreeing to a ‘free’ engagement session - or E-shoot as they now seem to be called or is it a pre-wedding shoot, sigh. Now don’t get me wrong but there is nothing wrong with engagement shoots, apart from the fact most of them are a bit embarrassing. I am convinced though that most clients don’t want them. How do I know? Well if you try charging for them then no one ever books one. This is a fact. However, if you include them for free then, of course, clients will take you up on your offer, and that’s how wedding photographers ended up spending their Sunday afternoons wandering around parks trying to work out a way for these pre-wedding-shoots not to look awkward and laughable. Piggyback anyone? 

So earlier this year I went to a routine meeting about a potential wedding booking. It was all going well, and I was getting the feeling that the bride was about to book when she dropped the question I have now come to expect and despise. “ Well, the thing is, I like your work, but two of the other wedding photographers we’ve seen are including a complimentary engagement shoot. Is that something you are able to offer?” Ah! Well no I charge £250 for this [although no one has ever booked one at that price] Unfortunately for me I want this booking. It’s on a Friday in October, and so I’m unlikely to get another booking on that date. Before I can think about it, I am agreeing to a free engagement shoot and found myself a few months ago shooting for NO MONEY in Tatton Park. OK so it went okay - I’m nothing if not a professional, but once I factored in the prep time, the travel, the shoot, the post-production I vowed never to shoot for free again. As I regularly shoot 40-50 weddings a year, then the idea of giving away 40-50 afternoons for free is just ludicrous business sense. 

Now I know what you are going to say. It’s not free. You are securing the wedding bookings. Charge for prints. Factor it into your wedding prices. You have no choice everyone is doing it. It’s a great way to get to know your clients. It’s brilliant for making your clients get used to how you work. And probably eight other reasons I haven’t thought of yet. Well yes, possibly but I can’t get away from the feeling that all wedding photographers would be a lot better off if we all quietly agreed not to do free engagement shoots. Let’s see if 30 of my clients next year really wanted them that much that they paid only £200 then, mmmm, let’s see - 200x30 = 6000. Yes, I’d be £6000 better off.

Or as is more likely I’d have 30 afternoons when I could be doing something else!


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Comments (20)

  • David R

    David R

    12 November 2013 at 12:54 | #

    I totally agree with this article. I really think most couples find them a bit annoying and embarrassing too. It's all part of the buyers market for wedding photography. Can I have a free shoot. Can I had two photographers. Can I have some free parents albums. Oh and can you knock off a few quid as I've spent most of my budget already. Race to the bottom time.


    • Brendan


      26 April 2015 at 20:16 | #

      I disagree that couples find them embarrassing or annoying.
      My couples get the "option" of booking a pre wed. So far this year, ALL my couples have booked one.


  • Laura


    12 November 2013 at 13:04 | #

    Wrong wrong wrong. If you take the right approach you can make these 'free' engagement shoots pay. I think it's about attitude. Your's is typical of the older generation of male wedding photographers. Try taking some creative photos next time and then it comes down to how you present them and sell to the client. Lesson over. It's a great way to get to know clients before their big day!


    • rich


      14 November 2013 at 09:07 | #

      Well said


    • Sarah


      28 November 2013 at 10:37 | #

      Totally agree!


  • Sara


    12 November 2013 at 14:05 | #

    I find this article extremely hypocritical.

    You mention a few of the reasons why it’s a great idea to include a portrait session in wedding packages, then in the following sentence state that all wedding photographers would be better off not to offer this to our clients.

    Which one is it?

    You know that it’s not ”free”, that it’s actually added to the price - but still decide to use that same phrasing over and over. If I make my wedding packages a little bit more expensive to be able to include a portrait session with my couple; to make their whole experience better, to gain exposure through photos that evoke excitement for the upcoming wedding, to have a more comfortable couple in front of my lens on the big day. Then, why wouldn’t I?

    Because you find it “awkward”?

    Adapt or die.


  • Simon B

    Simon B

    12 November 2013 at 14:33 | #

    funny that the male photographers seem to hate them but the moms with a camera brigade will jump at any chance to walk round a park on a 'shoot' LOL


  • Angela


    12 November 2013 at 15:22 | #

    Pretty patronising & sexist Simon B.

    They are only worth it if they genuinely do 'pay' (in whatever way you choose to define that). I found they didn't really, so I only include them in a package as a priced item now.


  • Dilip


    12 November 2013 at 15:57 | #

    A very interesting article. Even more interesting is the idea that some 'old male' photographers are responsible. A pre-shoot is something you either offer or you don't, it's nothing to do with being male or female.


  • Guest


    12 November 2013 at 18:45 | #

    I was once a "give this for free" and "give that for free" photographer so this following advice is from experience. If you explain to clients why they should value their work and why what you do is a luxury service, they will witch and moan, go around the globe, talk to other photographers but in the end they will come back to you. Just stick to your guns.

    The only free thing that photographers should be giving to clients is advice. Advice on why they do not work for free in any respect. I'll include print credits in your package and emphasize/show samples of the beautiful prints that you can purchase with the credits but that is about it.

    Also concerning the bit on engagement shoots,

    "I am convinced though that most clients don’t actually want them. How do I know? Well if you try charging for them then no one ever books one. This is a fact."

    Sadly, this is not a fact. It is up to you, the photographer to know "how" to sell an engagement shoots/pre-wedding shoots.

    For example, I offer design services (invitation design, web design) with my photography. Letting clients know that the photographs can be used for fine art print displays in the cocktail area, artistic additions to center pieces, updated photographs for their wedding websites, and even fun customized save the date cards. This alone builds a ton excitement (also because you will be excited when you talk about it, excitement is contagious). You then have the opportunity to not only book an engagement shoot, but also a PREMIUM ($$$$) wedding party shoot days prior to the wedding which will then have a quick turn-around and presented on the wedding website as well as on the slideshow for the cocktail hour or part of the reception. They will pay. I guarantee you when you knock that wedding out of the ballpark, they will tell their friends and so on and so forth. In fact, you will be approached while working the wedding.

    Also, a couple will feel awkward if you do not cater to them when shooting. Photography is much more than taking photographs, you need to interact with your clients and help them to feel at ease. If you are not a "people person", find another way, get an assistant who is. Have them chat it up and keep things light while you capture the moments.

    Ok, I'll stop ranting now but I believe that the key is that we (photographers) need to become as good in business as we are in photography to thrive in the industry. Taking business courses are just as important as taking photography courses and workshops. :)


  • Virginia Smith

    Virginia Smith

    13 November 2013 at 03:58 | #

    I have had clients pay for engagement shoots and choose a cheaper photographer.

    I have had clients hire us because of our engagement sessions.

    The clients who we do both engagement sessions and weddings for spend way more money on prints, albums, thank you cards, everything! They also continue to order and post images for a couple years after the wedding. They also book us for a trash the dress a year later or a lifestyle anniversary session, their babies and family pictures.

    We do not offer complimentary engagement sessions, they are built into our packages and there is no discount if they are not taken advantage of. They are for our benefit to teach our clients how to relax and enjoy being in front of our cameras. We are just ending our first year in business and we are very happy with the profitable, enjoyable and creative opportunities engagement sessions provide!


  • Aaron


    19 November 2013 at 16:49 | #

    What a sad and cynical article. We include engagement shoots with every wedding package. It may "appear" free, but it most certainly isn't. The cost is just figured into the price of the package.

    I can't say that I've seen myself or my peers produce "bad" and "awkward" engagements. The idea that clients don't want them is outright false, too. We've been hired specifically for and because of our engagement shoots.

    Last, We feel it's important for us to have that time with our couples that allows us to not only get to know one another, but to get familiar with the way the couple interacts, and for the couple to get familiar with the way we work.

    It's a win/win for us.


    • Jefferson


      19 November 2013 at 18:52 | #

      "It may appear free" - so you are over charging the clients that don't want them? I think the point is that if you charge for them separately then most won't book them and he is really just bemoaning the fact that clients use the 'free' engagement shoot as leverage these days. Don't think it is cynical at all just an observation. He does't actually say that engagement shoots are a bad thing- I wish people would read and understand articles rather than just skimming them and jumping to conclusions. You just look like an idiot.


  • Lina


    27 November 2013 at 09:22 | #

    I agree with this post in principal. We don't offer pre-shoots in our standard package either because for couples who don't want them it's a waste of time for everyone and they just use it to haggle us down off the price. So if they want it they have it as an extra or go for a bigger package that includes it. As photographers we actually quite enjoy them as a way to get to know the client better before the wedding, and we do think we get better shots as a result of the relationship that is developed. However, this approach does also allow us to add it in as 'gift' should we feel the client needs a bit more of a carrot, or at wedding fairs. Sorry about that. But in this case, it does work...


  • Andy Stonier

    Andy Stonier

    09 February 2014 at 19:30 | #

    Completely agree with the post.


  • Rob


    23 May 2014 at 16:13 | #

    I enjoy a pre-wedding shoot. It does help to get to know the couple and I find it makes people more comfortable around the camera on the day of their wedding photography but I will be dropping them as a "complimentary" option in the not too distant future. They do take up a lot of time and as the wedding bookings grow, it simply isn't feasible to continue to offer them as a freebie. I will still offer them though, I often include time for a coffee or, other social lubricant ;)


  • ABL


    12 November 2014 at 15:37 | #

    Pre wedding shoots, IMHO, are meant to be the chance for you to get to know your couple a bit.. so they relax with you, and you them. So you can work out their pretty side etc. Get some back story, maybe even do the shoot list thing with a coffee afterwards. get them to trust you, getting them to realise spending all that money with you is going to be worth it. Its part of your booking,. Monetising it (sp?), is great - but to be honest if you losing a booking because you don't offer one (for free or price factored into your wedding shoot fees), your probably shooting yourself in the foot.


  • Graham


    13 November 2014 at 10:50 | #

    I think the choice to offer free pre-wedding shoots should be down to each individual photographer, and if he or she decides to include one freely then it's their choice.
    Personally I do charge for pre-wedding shoots, but also include them in a couple of my more expensive packages as freebies - mainly because that's what the clients expect, but also because I love doing them. It gives me a chance to get to know my clients better (we usually have a coffee and a bit of cake before we shoot), and it helps them feel more relaxed on their big day.
    I don't think I will ever stop doing them, but in time I might offer them at half price, instead of free, if booked with a wedding... something those who bemoan doing freebies may want to consider.
    Have a great day,


  • Brendan


    26 April 2015 at 22:04 | #

    Sounds to me like someone had failed to adapt to a changing market and had decided to just moan about it instead.
    £250 for a couple of hours work, in an economy that is struggling, is probably the reason clients don't want them.
    I may be wrong, and others may charge similar amounts and get bookings, but I doubt that many do.
    I offer my clients the "option" of an pre wedding/engagement shoot, included in ther package. So far they've nearly all taken it.


  • Anne


    26 November 2015 at 18:42 | #

    I see someone has revived this thread, so let's pitch in :)

    I think the free e-shoot as a testdrive is an American thing and is to be avoided like the plague. I offer a complimentary engagement shoot to people who book a full day package with me. If someone wants money off because they don't want an engagement shoot I gently remind them that it is complimentary and not doing it won't affect the price BUT that it is a great opportunity to practise in front of the camera and to relax, and that it helps me understand how best to photograph them. I value feedback on the engagement photos because I then know which poses/faces/angles people like and which kind of photos to avoid. Some people are awkward in front of a camera or with each other in front of a camera and the e-shoot helps all of us to work out how to get the best possible photos. When I 'sell' it like that, 90% of prospective clients take me up on the offer. And we all benefit from it.

    I was considering offering e-shoots at half price like Graham suggested but ultimately I think very few people would take me up on the offer, not because they are cheapskates, but because the thought of having to pose in front of a camera puts the fear of god into most people! And those photo sessions really are invaluable to me in terms of getting to know my clients so in the end I decided to keep the complimentary shoots.

    On a side note: my e-shoots are truly complimentary, I don't add a higher price tag to my wedding package to compensate for the 5 hours of my time.


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