Hey all you wonderful clients and prospective clients of Zoe Larkin Photography! As you all are all too aware, this is an unprecedented time in the world. There is much confusion and heartbreak – and having your wedding plans disrupted is a big deal.
I don’t take any of this lightly. As a responsible and adaptable wedding vendor, I recognize the need to be flexible and understanding while my clients navigate difficult times. Many marriers are downsizing their weddings (or even eloping), postponing to a future date, or hoping to go ahead with their original date, albeit on a smaller scale.
All of these options are difficult choices. If you want to check out what some of my other couples have done getting married during these difficult times, check out the post linked here:
In this article, I would like to outline some policies involved with the work I do. I realize that many clients of mine signed a contract long before ‘COVID’ and ‘social distancing’ were words in anyone’s vocabulary. Perhaps there are questions you have or matters you would like to ask about. This is a sort of statement of where I stand with it all.
Also, just to interject here real quick and say – nothing I am saying here constitutes health advice.
This relates to just my business – everyone is different
So I’m going to keep this super brief and remember, everything in this post relates to how I personally run my business. The same will not necessarily be true for all wedding vendors or even all Bay Area wedding photographers.
It’s always best to go direct to the vendor and ask what their policies are when you’re looking at postponing, down-sizing, canceling, or going ahead during lockdown.
Some of my favorite wedding resources, that you can trust for how down-to-earth and innovative they are, are from A Practical Wedding. Please, go check this out!
I am unfortunately not in a position to give advice concerning wedding planning as a whole. This is definitely a matter for an experienced wedding planner.
The good news is, if you’re now considering the services of a Bay Area wedding planner, I have a list of excellent planners that you can always have a no-pressure chat with before you decide if you’d like to use their services. Get in touch if you’d like to receive it.
For those however that are not able to hire a planner, I do have the secret sauce as to how you might go about planning your downsized wedding yourselves, linked below!
What if you don’t have a wedding date?
I have gotten a number of inquiries lately from folks who cannot say with certainty when their wedding will be. In the wedding industry, we are used to dates being set in stone! I am expecting more inquiries along the lines of ‘we want this date, but we may have to go with this date… or this one…’
As a response, I want to say first of all, relax. I totally get it. If you see wording on my website or anywhere that states the importance of ‘the date! The date!!’, know that this is pre-COVID. Now, it’s a different wedding world where uncertainty and plans A – Z are the order of the day.
We will of course have to sign a contract, but the wording will be revised. It will still be for one date. Just be clear on the date you’re most realistically hoping for, but with the understanding it may change.
Please keep me posted regarding any changes. When you inquire with me, I may give you an idea of my availability, but that changes daily. Plus, as things open back up, the new bookings and reschedulings will come in thick and fast.
Whenever I give you my availability it is only ever a snapshot of my calendar at that point in time. As it fills up, I will not update you. So, please keep communicating as my calendar changes several times every day.
Does Zoe Larkin Photography charge rescheduling fees for COVID-impacted weddings??
If rescheduling is necessary, we would simply move all payments, plans etc to the new date.
I do not charge any rescheduling fees currently.
Please note that now that we are 1.5 years into the pandemic as I edit this, most photographers are now starting to charge rescheduling fees, with the rationale that ‘couples should be expected to pay, knowing that our flexibility comes at a price’.
Ouch. That’s never a line that I want to tell my clients.
When it is not the client’s fault or their choice to have to reschedule their wedding, I do not believe it’s right that you should have to pay for the privilege.
In fact, charging for the ‘privilege’ of rescheduling actually incentivizes not changing the date, resulting in possible bad decisions being made that may impact public health & safety.
Yes, there are going to situations where I’ve had to turn away business for a date that your wedding was previously booked, and then you change that date, meaning a loss of business – but what can I do? I think this is a cost of doing business in these strange times that vendors just have to shoulder.
Where you stand with regards to rescheduling
It’s a straight switch from date A to date B (or C!). The only exception to this is my regular policy that if you’re switching from a weekday celebration to a Saturday celebration during wedding season, that is now a different type of booking with higher rates.
To understand more about this, check out my detailed article on minimums that are due on the most popular dates of the year – weekends during wedding season – and how this impacts price. This is nothing to do with COVID.
If you’re an existing client and you booked with me before COVID, I got you covered, too! We would simply move all the plans including the payment schedule to the new date.
That means if your original wedding date was September 2020, the final two installments would have been July and August 2020 (one and two months out).
Let’s say your new date is now June 2021. That means your final two payments are now due in April and May 2021.
And of course, if there are timelines and other planning aspects we were working on together, we’d simply shift those over and make any adjustments that are necessary as the plans take shape.
For example, in the instance above, the sunset would be very different given the time of year, so the photo session (and maybe even ceremony time, family portraits etc) will also need to be shifted around.
Weddings are a team effort, so I will always take my cue from your other vendors. Some areas are solely about photography, but there’s also meal service, venue restrictions, first dance, which the respective vendors will take the lead on.
I would simply ask you’d keep me in the loop with regard to your rescheduled date so I can be sure I’m free.
What if Zoe is not available on the rescheduled date?
If you have already booked something, or there is no way on earth I can be there for your new date, fear not! I will send one of my associate photographers that you’ll also have the opportunity to get to know a little before the big day.
As they are shooting in my stead, there is no discounted rate or refund due if you accept to have an associate shoot your wedding instead of me because you rescheduled to a date that I wasn’t available.
If you decline the associate photographer, and instead choose to source your own wedding photographer, the booking fee (first 50% you paid towards the wedding photography package) would NOT be refundable – and my contract states this. This goes towards all the work I have already done for you, plus the cost of holding your date in my calendar.
For all new bookings onboarded since May 2020, I’ve requested payment #2 (the 50% remainder) to be paid just 1 week before the wedding. This is to mitigate situations where I have already received full payment, but whether the wedding can go ahead is still in doubt. I want to avoid these situations, going forward.
Therefore, the idea is that with the final payment being due so close to the date, there would be no need for questions about refunds.
Are refunds possible if you just want to cancel everything?
Oh boy. This is a really tough question that hasn’t come up before for me personally, but I’m not blind to the possibility that this might be the only option for some. The wedding industry’s official line is #postponedontcancel and rightly so. Let me explain.
Our industry which is made up of millions of small (and I mean mostly solopreneur) businesses. They feed their families and pay their mortgages with the income they made from their wedding bookings – including yes, the retainers/ reservation fees that you’ve likely already paid.
Not to be too dramatic but, to demand a refund from a one-person business whom you’ve paid months ago, is to put them that bit closer to closing their doors for good. Many of us feel like we’re hanging on by a single thread right now.
Getting a refund from a photographer or a floral designer isn’t the same as getting one from Amazon or American Airlines. Real talk: service businesses, unless they have some passive income source which isn’t common, pretty much live paycheck to paycheck.
So assume that once you’ve paid that money, it’s gone. It can be used for reschedules without a fee, but will not be coming back to you except in absolutely exceptional circumstances like the example I get into below.
I’m not saying this is right. I think that this whole pandemic has opened up the eyes of many wedding pros that this way of doing business is rather fragile and even unsustainable. But that’s a whole other conversation.
What happened to the money you already paid?
Just so you know, we don’t place money for future jobs into an escrow fund or holding account. We use that money to keep our businesses going, pay for our expenses, and put food on the table!
As I’ve alluded to, the booking fee (first 50% paid) is not refundable in any circumstances, even if your wedding doesn’t end up going ahead due to, for example, a breakup or change in life circumstances.
That income is a vital part of our cashflow. It typically comes in during the wedding off-season – the period immediately after the holidays when many couples get engaged.
I personally think the industry is facing a shake-up. It has always felt heartless to keep money when a job isn’t carried out, though that means turning away other clients seeking the same date.
When I hear stories like this one, from just a few days ago, I do despair with the wedding industry. A bride passed away and the wedding vendor stood on their contract, rather than doing the decent thing. This makes me feel ill.
I would say even if your wedding plans change dramatically, please use your original vendors so you don’t lose your reservation fees or booking fees (also casually called ‘deposits’, but from a legal perspective this is not quite correct. For any legal/finance nerds, go here).
I am only too happy to work something out. Even if the location/ type of wedding/ season/ length of coverage changes, we can still make it good for both parties.
So, any funds paid while not refundable, can be applied as credit towards future (even non-wedding) events.
To find out more about why wedding vendors charge ‘so much’, check out my article linked below.
All of this said, I don’t have a heart of stone! While refunds are not a part of my policy I also run a business built on integrity.
What happens on the COVID wedding day itself?
This is where I’ll 100% allow you to take the lead. I of course want to be safe and well and will do everything within my power to make sure of this. If you would like to keep your masks on at all times, that’s fine.
If you would like to keep strict social distancing rules, that’s of course fine and I respect that. We will begin the shoot (or chat prior) about the level of distancing and precautions you’re happy with. If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 you must bring that up in advance of the shoot, and I will do the same. These conversations are awkward but vitally important.
I do prefer to keep at least 6 feet away, but that doesn’t affect my photography at all. I actually wrote in a previous post, many months ago, that my style is to stay a good distance away. Why? I believe the best photos come when the photographer is not in the couple’s faces!
Not only is it quite intimidating to have a stranger in your personal space, it doesn’t make for the most flattering photos! Generally speaking, the closer you are to your subject, the more distorted the effect. So, there’s really no change there in terms of the photos you’re getting from your COVID wedding!
I have remained well and have no symptoms. If this changes, I do have contingency plans and associate photographers that can photograph your wedding. This is just like any other situation in which there is illness or accident – your wedding will be covered, even if it’s by a different photographer in my team.
One question I have gotten a few times now is if I offer livestreaming or video services. The answer is no. But I do recommend LoveStream for amazing virtual wedding streaming, as likely not all your friends and family members can make it in person.
You can read more about what they offer at the link below (and be sure to check that out if you want a cheeky 10% discount off your wedding streaming package!)
To sum up
Thanks for hearing me out.
I think I’ve addressed the major points. One thing I’m finding through all of this is that every couple’s situation is completely unique. There is no more guiding our clients through a simple sales funnel from initial inquiry to wedding day. It’s all hands on deck! Dealing with major uncertainty, juggling many plans in the air at once, and a whole lot of wait-and-see.
The situation is in constant flux and there are a lot of unknowns right now. We’re not going to let COVID get the better of us. I want you all to know that I am fully with you to support you through these weird times, whatever that might look like. Please know I’m here to help any way I can. I hope you’re keeping your chins up and spirits high!
Wanting more wedding planning tips, always up to date with the very best planning information I have to offer? All for free?! Check out my mega post linked below