Right of first refusal wedding photography - toronto wedding photographer

The Right of First Refusal in Wedding Photography is a Bad Idea

How to Handle Multiple Inquiries For a Single Date

One of the best problems a wedding photographer can have is multiple inquiries about the same calendar date. A photographer’s chance of reserving a date significantly increases when two or more couples actively request information about its availability and book consultation appointments. Superficially, this doesn’t seem like a negative situation at all. It’s a very positive sign that business is great and there is demand for your brand. The problem lies in how novice wedding photographers – or those with more art than business savvy – choose to handle such situations, especially when all the interested clients want to meet within a relatively short span of time.

Right of First Refusal

One of the more popular strategies for dealing with such situations is referred to as the right of first refusal. It is similar to first-come, first-served, or more aptly, first-come, first-opportunity-to-book. Wedding photographer Steven Sint, from his book, The Bride’s Guide to Wedding Photography, describes it as follows:

While you want to be careful about signing a contract right away, you should understand that there is risk involved in delaying your decision. During the time that you are comparing studios, the first photographer you interviewed may get booked. […] If a photographer really interests you, ask if he or she will give you the right of first refusal for two weeks (or as long as it takes to see all the other candidates). This means that if someone else calls them within this 2-week timeframe for the same date, they will not accept that assignment without calling you first. In return for this consideration, you should agree to give your decision immediately if they do call. It is important to talk about this decision with your fiancé before the call comes so that you live up to your part of the bargain. (p131)

I strongly disagree with the right of first refusal when booking my wedding photography services. It relies too heavily on the honour system, which can be abused by both couples and unscrupulous wedding photographers and can give the impression of a sales pressure tactic. Let’s assume a couple and a Toronto wedding photographer have agreed to a right of first refusal. Several days hence, the couple receive a call from the photographer: they’re meeting with another interested party and need a decision. This wedding photographer was the second the couple met and their favourite so far, but they’re meeting a third tomorrow and two more in the following week.

Right of First Refusal is Ripe for Manipulation

This situation is ripe for manipulation by both parties. If the couple finds it hard to commit so early, having met fewer than half of the competing wedding photographers they planned on meeting, they could agree to place the reservation, all while continuing with their third consultation. The first photographer will have no recourse if they cancel the signing appointment in favour of the third photographer. Alternatively, the photographer may meet the second couple, realise their wedding is more lucrative (more hours, more albums, better locations, etc.), book them and cancel the signing appointment with the first couple, who would also have no recourse. I admit this scenario is highly theoretical, but reality is often stranger than fiction, so I’m confident that more convoluted situations have transpired. However, the most likely scenario is that the couple will assume the wedding photographer’s call is a pressure tactic to force a quick decision. If that is true, the strategy could easily backfire and result in lost business.

A Better Approach

For these reasons, my approach to wedding photography consultations does not involve any kind of right of first refusal, “pencilling in”, or giving advanced notice that I have scheduled meetings with other couples for the same date. I will book the first couple that signs the agreement and pays the retaining fee. (That’s why the best time to hire a wedding photographer is sooner than later). Unlike the right of first refusal, my method not susceptible to manipulation and fosters mutual trust, which is good for business. It also rewards decisiveness in couples that know what they want when it’s presented to them. Such couples always make the very best wedding photography clients.

2 comments

  1. Scott Webb says:

    I kind of don’t really get any of this. Both approaches, in my opinion, would only be suitable if everything about the people and the wedding were exactly the same.

    What happened to the fact that you (as the photographer) are also interviewing with the couple. One of the great things about being a self-employed photographer is choosing the projects or bookings you do. This becomes even more important for you if there are requests for the same day.

    Consider each wedding:

    – They are going to be at different locations. Which location seems more your style or excites you to shoot?
    – Do you vibe with one couple over the other?
    – How do the wedding details sound from the couple?
    – What level of actual service to each of them require from you for the wedding day? Does one want you for less work or more work? Do you want to do more work or less? You could earn greater revenue from one of the couples for your days work.
    – Which couple is just more responsive and easier to deal with?
    – What if one of the brides has been liking your photography before they were even engaged?

    What you’re presenting doesn’t take any of this into account. Trust me, you’re not the only site that has said this kind of thing too. Also a lot of photographers in forums discuss terms like you mention.

    I believe this way of dealing with the situation actually commoditizes photography work even more. I feel it’s like saying we’ll take anything that wants us to press the shutter these days.

    I have a meeting with a couple today (arranged about 10 days ago and has had my details and I asked if she could let me know what package shes leaning to prior to meeting. but she hasnt.). I got a message from a girl that has followed my facebook page for a while now and she got engaged on Thursday night. She asked me about the date today and is ready to rock pretty much go. Im calling her in the morning and meeting other client in the evening. The most recent request seems like it is going to be more my style and possible to cover on my own + wanting engagement photos too. First couple doesn’t want engagement photos but hasnt really described much to me but I feel like it may require a second photographer.

    I feel that if both are willing to book with me, I get to choose which inspires me and could potentially help my photography business. But if you’re in demand like that for your work, that’s the benefit: you get to pick the work you do.

    Tell the couples as much notice as possible about another couple interested in the same date, but the best thing to ultimately confirm the booking is which wedding is actually the best fit altogether. This is going to ensure that each couple gets the photographer that vibes best and plays into their style. I’dl have a photographer that I’d recommend so that they are not out in the cold.

    It’s just important that we don’t have to book any and every thing that comes in for a date. We can give preference to what would be the best fit. I think it might be hard but it would be great & honest service.

    • Paul says:

      You bring up some good points. However, I disagree that this, in particular, makes wedding photography a commodity (although there aren’t a shortage of things that do—the main culprit being competing on price alone). I brought this up in the article: the point is to have serious couples make decisions quicker and without the artificial push of “I have multiple inquiries”. You may very well have multiple inquiries, but this could easily backfire because everyone’s been in a situation where similar tactics were used under less than honest circumstances to seal the deal faster (such as car sales). In any case, you’re free to reject them for another couple who you feel will enjoy your work and style even more; that is your right and will very likely result in better work.

      By the way, thanks for reading and taking the time to write your comment. I appreciate it! Sometimes it feels like I’m throwing my thoughts into a dark void and hearing nothing but echoes. Best!

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