Indianapolis Family Photographer | What is a retainer and where does it go!?

Indianapolis Family Photographer | casey and her camera

I haven’t gotten this question, yet, but always want to run this business under the best possible practices I can… and that means explaining everything and hiding nothing. Let’s face it, if it were my money, I would want to know! So what makes it any different for you?! NOTHING!

So here’s the question of the day: what is a retainer and where does it go!? Well, … it’s for your teeth, and it goes in your mouth….

Kidding, kidding! Really, though, what’s the difference between a retainer and a deposit? Well, in short, a deposit is refundable, and a retainer is not.

What about a ‘non-refundable deposit’? Still refundable. Especially in a court of law. By definition, a deposit is “first installment on the purchase of something”… with “the balance being payable later”. (see definition, here) On the other hand, a retainer is “a fee paid in advance to someone”… “in order to secure or keep their services when required”. (see definition, here)

In most cases, retainers are required by photographers to secure yourself a session slot, and in the case of casey and her camera, are the only way to secure a slot. When booking a session, I will hold a date for up to 14 days during the “escrow-like” phase of booking. This is the time period in which clients are filling out contracts, signing waivers and releases, and submitting their signed contract along with their retainer. Once the retainer and contract are received, the session is booked and I am committed to that client, and that client only, on that day and during the specified time slot. Violation of this would mean violation of contract… and of my ethics! Not all photographer follow this same policy, so if you’re booking elsewhere, be sure to get the facts, first!

That retainer is never refundable and is used to ensure that I have taken all necessary business steps to ensure that session happens. That means:

  • keeping current on all licenses, certifications, and insurance
  • keeping current on all website, blog, and printing services
  • renting gear (if applicable)
  • securing permits for location access in certain situations
  • (most excitingly) prepping your flash drives, online gallery, and packaging materials!

Of course, there are many other behind-the-scenes costs happening daily. Running a business costs money – often more-so than it appears on the surface. Your retainer allows me to offer you the smoothest and most enjoyable photo experience during your session, and guarantees there is no delay in the return of your product!

So what happens in the event of a cancellation? Rescheduling is always recommended, as the retainer remains non-refundable in the event of a cancellation. Why is this? All of the above follow the saying ‘the show must go on’ whether you are able to attend your scheduled shoot or not. Additionally, and in most cases, the photographer loses out on that date and time when cancellations happen close to the schedule shoot. This retainer helps compensate the photographer for the loss of any business, as well as covers any costs that happen in lieu of the session.

Phew. Is this in writing anywhere? Of course! It’s all listed in the body of the contract! Always be sure to read the contract – whether it’s with me or anyone else – as these details are important and vary from photographer to photographer. Always know what you are signing up for and never be afraid to ask questions – it’s best to know the answer out-right!

So now that it’s all out there for the world to see, go! Enjoy your day! Breath a sigh of relief knowing where your money goes, what it’s used for, and whether or not you can get it back.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a little Good Will Hunting.

Happy booking!

Indianapolis Family Photographer | casey and her camera


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