PhotographyJocelyn Mokintext layer

Why a non-refundable retainer/ deposit/ session fee?

All The WHY’s

Why is one of the most important and most widely used business practices among professional photographers, one that sometimes comes into question or is misunderstood? THE NON-REFUNDABLE RETAINER/ DEPOSIT OR SESSION FEE!

I’ll explain WHY IT’S MISUNDERSTOOD in a second, but first I’d like to talk about WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT if you run a legitimate photography business.

Industry Standard

For decades Professional photographers have been using the business practice that utilizes a non-refundable retainer or deposit. The reason is simple. When a client has books a family session, boudoir session, wedding, etc, that client has now RESERVED A DATE on that photographers calendar. The retainer, simply and effectively explained, is used to BOOK A DATE ON THE CALENDAR. Once that retainer is paid, the photographer takes that date off his or her calendar to other potential clients. Now that date is unavailable to other potential clients, and can’t be booked by anyone else because the client paid a retainer. A non-refundable retainer. This business practice is standard for the industry.

Time is Money

There is a very important reason why its non-refundable. The income from that blocked off date is being counted on by that photographer. So if a client cancels, reschedules, or is a no-show, that photographer can at least recoup that retainer from all of the missed opportunity for other clients who may have booked that date.  All professional photographers require a signed contract before work can begin, and the non-refundable retainer is always stated in the contract. Most will have this information on their website and other places as well. Time is money. As soon as a client books their session, work behind the scenes begins, setting forth the agreement in the contract.

Most professional photographers have an email system and studio management software that the clients info needs to be entered into, and set up. If its a boudoir session, most professional photographers send a prep guide, and personally assist that client with purchasing lingerie and/ or planning their session. And so on. For each client I book, I spend about 8-12 hours of time. TIME IS MONEY. Also, keep in mind, most professional boudoir photographers use a professional makeup artist, so that person is reserved for the booked date as well. So a cancelled or no-show session is not only time and money lost on the photographers part, it’s also lost income for the makeup artist.

Common Sense

Now, lets get to why it’s misunderstood or met with resistance. First of all, MOST clients will completely understand why it’s important. Because simply put, it’s common sense. But there are a few clients who will resist and fight it — especially (ONLY) the ones who are in that group I mentioned above…no-shows, cancellations and re-schedules. There are 2 main reasons why it’s met with resistance…

The first reason is a lack of comprehension about the fact that the photographer has lost potential income because the booked date has been taken off their calendar & a misguided belief that if the actual photo session didn’t take place, then the photographer isn’t losing any money. That is plain and simply false, as explained by the reasons in the above paragraph. Most of the time this happens because of failure to read the information provided by the photographer, including their contract.

The second reason is because they have either dealt with or are comparing to someone else. Most of the time an inexperienced, amateur photographer who has not set industry standard business practices in place. This is the most unfortunate reason, and one that is a plague in the photography industry. Many people think that it’s so easy to snap a few pictures (maybe even good ones), set up a Facebook page, and BAM they’ve got a photography business. WRONG. These individuals do not take the time to learn or understand the industry and balk at standards set in place by our leaders in this industry decades ago.


Gosh this is so important. Read the info sent in their welcome guide or emails. Read what’s stated on their website. So often these days, in our busy world, things get glossed over or simply just ignored. It is up to the photographer to have important info available to their clients, and it is JUST AS IMPORTANT for clients to READ that info! If you don’t READ, and then question what’s going on later, that is your fault. Especially if you sign a contract.

San Diego Boudoir Photographer | Contracts | Melisa Ford Photography | www.melisafordboudoir.com

If you are a photographer and you have questions about non-refundable retainer fees, I am more than happy to help educate you on this industry standard practice. Please email me at hello@melisafordboudoir.com.



For more info on deposits and contracts visit: https://www.thelawtog.com/


Melisa Ford is a San Diego boudoir photographer in San Diego, California and the surrounding areas including all of Southern California and North County San Diego.





PhotographyJocelyn Mokintext layer

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