What is a Photographer's Retainer Fee? | Tips and Tricks | M3 Creative | Peoria Photographer, Dunlap Photographer

What is a Photographer’s Retainer Fee? | Tips and Tricks

You’ve seen it on the website and in the contract, but what is it really? Some people refer to it as a Booking Fee. Others call it a Deposit or a Session Fee. However, the correct terminology is Retainer Fee (which is what you will see in all of your M3 Creative agreements and proposals.) A Retainer Fee is “an agreed upon sum of money paid to secure the services of a professional for an agreed upon time-frame.” In our situation, this can be for a wedding, portrait session, or really any of our photography services. Guest what? We aren’t the only industry to use it.

Other Professions Use Retainer Fees

Perhaps you don’t realize it but you are probably already familiar with the concept retainer fee. The most common first thought at the sound of the word is typically that of an attorney. You’ve either used one yourself and paid that retainer or seen it in one of the many law based television shows or movies. Attorneys are not the only profession that requires retainer fees. Here’s a very short list of some of the most common professions known for requiring a Retainer.

  • Doctors/Medical Specialist – certain doctors who practice “Boutique Medicine” use retainers — and some not so boutique medicine offices are now requiring them. I learned this from my OB experience during my pregnancy with my daughter. They required payment of the estimated fees for her delivery in full as a Retainer months before my scheduled due date.
  • Bankers – their retainers are upfront fees charged to clients, even if “the deal” eventually doesn’t go through
  • Freelancers – software engineers, web designers, copywriters, consultants and such all use retainers of some sort, allowing them to pay the bills while working on and waiting on assignments

…and that is just the short list!

What Does It Mean When You Retain A Professional’s Services?

Once you have paid a Retainer Fee and signed a Contract, you are officially “Booked” in the professional’s schedule. That means the time is reserved for you and only you. The professional does not bring on other business that would occupy that same time. For example, if you book MMP for your upcoming wedding by provided a signed contract and paying the retainer, MMP will not book any other weddings or photo sessions on that day… even if someone requests a bigger, more expensive package that day because you have reserved or retained our services. Once we receive that signed contract and retainer, we are now unavailable on that date for any future requests.

Why are Retainers Non-Refundable?

This is a great question! Consider this… what if the retainer was refundable and a client cancels their wedding or photo session a week before the event is scheduled? What are the chances that I am going to now be able to re-book that time with another individual and make up that lost income? Not likely, even at a week before and even if I had previous inquiries for that date! So now, I’m out of a days worth of income and while that may seem like no big deal, my income pays for the groceries my kids eat and the roof over their heads. If this happens more than once, you can bet I’d have to close down my business.

Obviously, there are some exceptions to this standard. If for some reason, I cannot perform the services for which I am retained or provide a suitable replacement, I do provide a refund of the retainer less any expenses incurred with a list of receipts. This doesn’t happen often. In fact, I have personally never had to do this. These would be extreme situations like falling and injuring myself before a wedding and not being able to find a suitable fellow photographer to act in my place.

Let’s Sum it Up!

Really what all of this means is both the Retainer and the Contract are meant to protect both you and the photographer. It creates a binding agreement and outlines all the expectations for the services to be provided. It also means you do not have to worry about the photographer not showing up for your session or booking multiple sessions at the same time taking their attention away from you.

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