Should You Offer Complimentary Engagement Sessions?

Today's guest post comes from Melanie Shields, and she shares why she thinks  every wedding should have a complimentary engagement session.

Prior to 2008 I didn't offer a complimentary engagement session.  I still remember the date I decided all wedding packages would now include engagement sessions and it was October 6th, 2007.

Once during the bride’s preparations I said, “let’s see your big smile,” she turned to me with a disgusted look on her face and remarked, “we don’t smile.” I think I’m still in shock! I realized I was doing a disservice to my clients by not knowing their needs. I didn't know how they liked to be photographed, poses that worked for them, in this case how they smiled even and what they were truly looking for in their wedding day photographs.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider including complimentary engagement sessions if you don’t already.

To get to know your client.

engagement session Melanie ShieldsThis one is first and foremost important to me. Build rapport, ask questions about the couple and get to know them for so many reasons. I use these answers to surprise my clients before, on or after their wedding day. Maybe they mentioned casually they love a coffee shop so I send them a small gift card two weeks before the wedding with a note saying “Please take a few minutes without any wedding talk to enjoy some time together”

I also find out what style they are really going for, their personal interests and more details about the wedding day so I can be as prepared as possible. I listen to what they have to say about how everything is going, family drama associated with the big day and can relate so it’s a very helpful tool to be more than just a photographer on the day of.  It’s also interesting to see if they mention they have a good side!

engagement session ferris wheelUpselling possibilities

I started by including the session fee and one 8×10. I explain to the clients the session fee is the largest portion of the cost of an engagement session and occasionally I will add either additional prints or a low resolution slideshow online for a value added incentive at the initial consultation as a signing bonus.  Keep in mind these are low cost items to include which make the customer feel they are getting a nice bonus but you are not affecting profit margins by including these products.

Remember not to include ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ in your complimentary package, leaving yourself with nothing to up-sell  I suggest you think about which products you want your clients to have and use to market your business to their friends and family. It can be a wallet sized album the bride could keep in her purse, a slideshow they will use as a computer desktop or small prints but be sure it isn't a product that would compete with your best selling items such as: the full set of images on CD, a wall portrait or full sized album.

No cost marketing 

The engagement session is your first opportunity to under promise and over deliver. Tell your clients it will be about 3 weeks to get the engagement files prepared for viewing and have them ready within 7 days or less. You are starting early in creating a remarkable experience which they will want to rave about to friends, family and coworkers

 We know clients will want to share their images in their home and online. I like to entice my clients, if they haven’t already added my business Facebook page, to ‘like’ my page in order to view one low resolution sneak peak of their session before their proofs are prepared. This gets them and all their friends talking about the image, the fun session, and ultimately my business. On average, when a couple is tagged in an image, it receives 15 comments and up to 30 likes. When I post the image to show my work but the couple aren't tagged I will receive approximately three likes and two comments. Consider the amount of promotion these commenters are providing to their network of friends free.

Establishing Trust

By getting to know your client before the wedding day, you will have established trust that will make the wedding day go smoothly, as the client knows you. You can also solidify yourself as an industry leader if you go into your session prepared with helpful tips on what to wear, where to shoot, and suggestions on other vendors that may be related to the session such as hair and makeup. Have a wonderful, engaging shoot and you will build confidence that you can do amazing job with anything that comes your way. Once they see their completed images and fall in love with them, they will be able to put their full trust in your abilities and this will make for a smooth wedding day for both of you.

Melanie Shields

Written by Melanie Shields, a wedding and portrait photographer from Ottawa, Canada. After graduating from Algonquin College’s Photography Program in 2003 she worked in fashion publications but found her true passion in wedding photography. She  photographs 25 weddings a year and countless portrait sessions. Her work has been featured on Weddingbells.ca, Ottawa Wedding Magazine and other  publications. Images by Melanie Shields Photography.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Get Pro Photo October 4, 2013 at 8:32 am

You could swap the e-session for something like an Animoto DVD which doesn’t take long to produce and costs nothing more than the modest annual fee. Animoto is also great for your marketing as couples will share the video on social media.

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Vivek March 6, 2013 at 12:58 am

Thanks Melanie..Quite an insightful blog..i am trying to pursue photography..The approach should also be helpful in the other segments as well. I am exploring all avenues..it seems Wedding Photography is a way to go.

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Julie January 16, 2013 at 10:59 am

I like Mel’s ideas above. Additional coverage always sounds good to them especially if they think they are getting something for nothing :-). All the ideas are great here so whatever works and helps to get them booked and commited to you.

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Mel Shields December 11, 2012 at 4:37 pm

To Mike Cook, if they really didn’t want to include a pre wedding engagement session I would offer them a boudoir session or trash the dress instead. If that wasn’t interesting to them I would say that I can add “30 or 45 minutes onto your wedding day coverage instead”

For the intown couple’s “How much is it to take it out of the package” question I just say that “this is a complimentary service to get to know you better and help you feel comfortable in front of the camera, you absolutely don’t have to do it if it’s not something that interests you and you don’t think you would use the photos for anything, but it doesn’t hold a monetary value. I can exchange it for a boudoir shoot or you can add the additional 45 minutes onto your wedding day coverage.”

I do agree Kat that it may not be for out of town couples, however I have had destination weddings where I did a pre shoot just fun pictures on the resort a day or two before the ceremony.

Thanks for the comments, great to hear others experiences!

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Kat December 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm

This is great if you happen to photograph local weddings. However, if you are a destination wedding photographer with clients from across the country, it simply isn’t working when clients are not going to be in town until their wedding. As much as I’d love to do e-sessions with all my couples, I realize it’s not going to happen in 85% of all cases.

In addition, if clients are truly not interested, you’ll run into the old “how much is it without the e-session” question.

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Julie January 16, 2013 at 10:55 am

I have to agree with Kat in regards to destination weddings. I live in a world renown ski resort (Lake Tahoe) and most of the weddings that take place here are from out of town brides and grooms. Local couples would certainly go for this. I like the idea of getting to know the couple a bit ahead of time so they are comfortable with you and you with them. It simply depends on their location and availability.

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Julian Knopf December 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm

The other great benefit is that it helps to provide a small amount of stress free training for the big day shoot. I find that it allows me to tell the clients how to stand and pose so that on the day ( if the pre shoot is not too far in advance ) they are more prepared with posture and stance so that the pictures are better posed. That for me is invaluable as it means that the event pictures are less likely to turn out bad.

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Lara White December 10, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Another approach is that you could use the complimentary engagement session as a booking bonus with a book in December, get…type of thing.

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Viv December 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Is wording it as “complimentary” enough? I go back and forth about including them since it seems like last year I had a lot of clients saying that they didn’t want an engagement session and thus wanted to lower the price of the final package. This year, I’m stating that they are complimentary but I’m not sure if that wording is enough to convey that if they don’t want an engagement session (sometimes they’ve already done one with another photographer) that it doesn’t lower the package price.

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