Why I Hate Free Engagement Shoots
Would clients actually pay for a pre-wedding 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!