Booking, and What Happens Before and After the Wedding
I frequently get asked about the booking process, and also the timeline and workflow before and after the wedding. This is certainly understandable, as for many of my clients and their families, this is the first time they've been on this particular journey of planning a wedding! In this article, I'll answer these questions, and give a general outline of what to expect.
When to Book Your Wedding Photographer
Probably the most frequently asked question I receive is "how far in advance should we book you?" Unfortunately, that's also the most difficult question to answer, with an admittedly vague "as early as possible" being the only appropriate response.
While, on average, my couples book me for weddings about 8-10 months prior to the date, when dates are examined individually this lead time varies greatly. For instance, for Saturdays in the Spring and Fall, the average lead time is closer to a year, with dates occasionally being booked as much as 18-20 months in advance. But, on the other hand, I've also booked many weddings just a month or two from the date, and years ago I even booked one just a mere three days before the wedding! So, even if it's relatively last-minute, it doesn't hurt to ask if I'm available, especially for Fridays, Sundays, and weekdays, but even for Saturdays during prime wedding season, as I do occasionally have these dates open as well.
The wedding photographer is usually very near the top of a couple's list of booking priorities, right below the venue (though in a few rare cases I've had couples book me first, selecting their ceremony and reception venues based on my availability!). The main piece of advice I would give is to book your photographer as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance of getting your first choice. Even though I may be available for your date when you first contact me, I may very well receive another inquiry soon after from a couple that wants to immediately book me.
As a courtesy to couples that I've had recent extensive communication with (beyond the initial inquiry) by phone or email, or an in-person meeting, and I get a sense that they probably do want to retain me for their wedding but have just not gotten around to finalizing the decision, I'll usually attempt to contact them if another couple happens to inquire about their date. But, in general I cannot commit to holding a date for longer than a day or two (if specifically requested). The reason is that if a couple asks me to hold the date for a few weeks, and a few days later another couple inquires about that same date, if the first couple ends up not booking me after all, by that time the second couple would have likely already moved on and found another photographer, resulting in me losing that potential booking as well.
Though the natural process of a wedding booking (from the initial inquiry, to more detailed conversations via email, phone, or in-person meeting, a few days to think about it, and then collecting the information for the contract and signing) usually ends up taking place over the course of several days or even a week or more, I've also had many instances where things progress much more quickly, with a bride or groom inquiring as to my availability, immediately requesting a contract, and the date being booked within an hour.
So, in short, though I do try my best to accommodate potential clients who I have had consultations with but have not yet booked, in the end I have little choice but to abide by the simple principle of the first couple who signs the contract and gets the retainer to me gets the date.
The Booking Process
Securing me to photograph your wedding can be done in-person, or I can collect the information I need through email and you can sign the contract electronically, as well as make your first payment online to secure the date (or you can mail a check). I'll need some basic information (names, address, phone numbers, locations, etc.), package selection, and the start and end times of the wedding day coverage.
If you are unsure of what package you want, you can just book the Basic Package to lock in the date, and upgrade later if you'd like. Similarly, if you are not yet sure about the timing of the wedding day (which is often the case early in the planning process), an estimate of the start/end times is fine for now.
I have a three-payment system. The first payment of 1/3 the total is due upon signing the contract. The second payment of 1/3 is due at about the halfway point between the booking date and the wedding date. The final 1/3 is due two weeks before the wedding. In some cases, if the wedding is only a short time away, I'll eliminate the middle payment and the final payment will be for the balance of 2/3.
Engagement Portrait – Within 1-3 Months After Booking
If you've chosen to do an engagement portrait session, this is usually done pretty soon after booking, as these images are often needed for save-the-date cards. There are a few variables that can affect this timing though. First is weather, particularly if you've booked in late Spring or early Summer. While we can certainly do a portrait session in the Summer, it's best to wait for the milder and less humid weather of late September or October if possible (if a Summer engagement portrait is the only option, consider doing an early morning session). Likewise, if you've booked around February, March, or April, you should try very hard to schedule the portrait as soon as possible, to take advantage of these more comfortable months.
Another factor, specifically for couples having destination weddings in New Orleans, is that it's often convenient to schedule the portrait to coincide with a wedding-planning trip to the city (to visit with florists, bakeries, attend venue food tastings, etc.). Some brides also do their hair and makeup trial at this point. If this is the case, please let me know before you have solidified your travel plans, just to be sure I have availability during this time.
These portrait sessions are usually done on weekday late afternoons / early evenings, but early morning are also an option. In particular, if other factors dictate that we have to do the engagement portrait during the Summer months, mornings are definitely preferred due to more comfortable temperatures. A nice side benefit to this is that if we're doing the session in the French Quarter, the area will be less crowded than a typical afternoon / evening.
Lastly, a destination couple might not be able to coordinate a trip to the city in advance, but they still want to do an engagement portrait session, so on occasion this session will actually be done the week of the wedding itself.
Bridal Portrait – 1-2 Months Before Wedding
The biggest determining factor for the bridal portrait session is, of course, when the dress alterations will be completed. But if you are planning to have a framed enlargement of a photograph from the session on display at the reception, you need about a month to allow for the images to be edited, ordering the print (from me or elsewhere), and having it framed at the shop of your choice.
This can get a little tricky for late Summer and early Fall weddings, as this typical timing would put you right in the middle of Summer for the portrait session. Just like with engagement portraits, the bridal portrait can be done in this season, but it will likely not be as comfortable for you because of the heat and humidity.
My suggestion in those instances, is to attempt to move up the completion date of your dress, or, alternatively, choose an indoor location for the portrait session to take place (a beautiful space like Felicity Church would be a great choice in New Orleans) eliminating weather concerns completely and making for a much more pleasant experience. And as with engagement portraits in the Summer, an early morning session is also an option, as long as you can coordinate your hair / makeup appointment for completion that early.
It's also possible to do the session closer to the wedding date, though if we have under a month to work with, the chances of being able to have the images edited in time for a framed print to be produced in time for the wedding are reduced, though I can expedite the editing to give this the best chances of happening. If you are not seeking to display a print at the reception, the time constraints become significantly less of a factor, and in some cases I've done bridal portraits the same week of the wedding. This is sometimes the case with destination wedding couples, where the bride can't make a trip to New Orleans before then. Of course, this is not ideal, as adverse weather may force an outdoor portrait session to be canceled, possibly without enough time left to reschedule before the wedding.
Wedding Detail Worksheet – 1-2 Months Before Wedding
A month or two before the wedding, I'll send you a link to a form you can fill out online, with various pieces of information about your event that will be helpful to me. At about that two-month point, you'll hopefully have most of these details and the timing of the day nailed down, but you don't necessarily have to finish this form all in one sitting, as you are free to return to it as many times as needed (up to the day before the wedding) to add missing information or provide updates.
Of course, you are also free to call or email at any time before or after this. Sometimes there are questions or concerns that need to be discussed in a conversation, so don't hesitate to contact me.
Final Check-In – 1-2 Days Before Wedding
I'll check in with you a day or two before the wedding just to confirm that our starting location and time are correct and find out if there are any last-minute details I should be aware of.
THE BIG DAY!
On the wedding day, I will arrive at the first location before our scheduled start time to get settled in and prepare to begin shooting.
Instagram Post – 1-5 Days After Wedding
If you provided me with a hashtag for your wedding (or if I notice a sign at the reception with the hashtag), I'll typically post a photo or two on Instagram at some point during the week after the wedding.
Blog Post – 1-2 Weeks After Wedding
The blog post is a sneak peek of my favorite dozen or so pictures from the wedding. I'll send you an email when this has been posted, which you can share with friends and family if you'd like.
Editing Complete – 3-5 Weeks After Wedding
The editing of all the images is typically finished within about 4 weeks (sometimes a little sooner, but rarely later than this). The gallery access information is emailed to you, which you can forward to any friends and family who may want to view the photographs and order prints. At this time, your USB flash drive of images and copyright release are shipped to you.
The proofing gallery is password-protected, so only those people who you give the information to will be able to access the gallery. A special feature of my gallery system allows you, as the client, to mark certain photos as private so that other visitors to the gallery will not see them, which is most useful for the "getting ready" photos, as although some couples are perfectly fine with these photos being seen by family and friends, sometimes the preference is for certain pictures to be kept private.
If your package includes an album:
Album Selections – this is all you!
If your package includes a wedding album, the ball is in your court at this time. I encourage you to get me your album selections within a month or two while things are still fresh in your mind and so that we can keep the process moving forward. Your selections can be made within the gallery by favoriting them, or you can just email me a list of image numbers.
Album Design – 2-3 weeks after selections received
Once I receive your album selections, the album design process takes me a few weeks to complete, and then a PDF is sent to you for approval.
Album Delivered – 4-6 weeks after album design approved
After you approve the design, it takes about a month to have the album produced, at which time it is shipped right out to you, and we're done!