[Pho.Talk] Photography Payment Norms: Methods, Deposits, When to Pay

Photography payments can be confusing, whether you are a freelance photographer, or a consumer booking a photoshoot.

Lucky for you today! This article will answer your burning questions in relation to the common questions regarding photography payments. We will talk about industry norms, so that you know how to manage payments as a freelance photographer, and what to expect as a consumer.

Specifically, we will cover three main frequently asked questions

  1. What forms of payments are usually accepted? Bank transfers/ Cash/ Credit Card?

  2. When do you pay photographers?

  3. Why are up-front payments taken?

  4. When are the instalments (usually retainer and balance) paid respectively?

  5. For Photographers: How to ensure timely payment?

  6. For Photographers: What if client refuses to pay?

Usually, photographers accept both cash and bank transfers, taking a 50% retainer due before the shoot. Exact due date for retainer and the balance is mostly up to the photographer. Up-front payments are taken to close a time slot from further advertisement and cover gear rental costs.

Check out this FREE DOWNLOADABLE photography invoice template that I myself use to bill clients!

Check out this article for more on invoicing for photographers: [Pho.Talk] FREE, REAL Photography Invoice Template & How to Make your Own

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What Forms of Payments are Usually Accepted?

As a freelance photographer, in relation to photoshoot bookings, I accept payments mostly via bank transfers and sometimes cash.

Occasionally, I do also route payments via credit cards or Paypal in relation to print sales.

Bank Transfer

This is probably the most widely used payment method among the photography community.

Everyone has a bank account, and everyone has a bank card. Seldom will there be difficulties in transferring across banks given the prevalence of digital transfers nowadays.

Most major banks have mobile apps and online banking platforms that allow transfers to be made easily. But even if that is not possible, going to a physical bank branch to bank in never fails (old school … but gets the job done so yea).

Virtual banks have also become more popular, like Revolut, Monzo, which is also a great alternative for interbank transfers. Therefore it is perfectly fine if the photographer and client banks with a different bank.


Back to basics - cash is the most direct way one can pay a photographer.

But here we face a few difficulties - firstly, retainers are usually required (explained below), but it is not always feasible to meet up in person before the actual shoot.

For smaller-scale shoots, most of the correspondence happens over the Internet. The entire process starting from customer getting in touch with the photographer, through which customer decides to purchase a certain photoshoot service, to the point where the sales is confirmed, usually takes place quickly over a couple of emails or DMs.

Even for larger-scale shoots, the photographer might schedule a in-person session with the potential client to walk through his service offerings. But still, the decision to buy can happen after the meeting when the client has gave it more thought.

And therefore, it is not always possible to pay in person, especially in relation to any pre-payment required.

Secondly, it is seldom convenient for the client to carry cash around, especially when the sum involved is rather large.

Lastly, and the most importantly, transactions made in cash offer no proof.

Unlike bank transfers or credit card payments, which can be supported by statements, cash payments can’t be traced and evidenced after the fact.

Based on my experience as a freelance photographer, cash payments usually work just fine for settling the last instalment. The acceptance of the cash implies that both parties have agreed that the transaction has concluded, which closes off the possibility for disputes.

Though generally, I wouldn’t advise photographers to accept retainers by cash.

Credit Cards/ Paypal

Credit cards can come in handy when the customer’s bank currency is different from that of the photographer’s.

For example, tourists travelling for few days might want to book a session with a local photographer during their short stay; or that to-be-weds might want to hire a photographer based in another country.

Or, people from other parts of the world might order prints and courses from a photographer. For instance, the below shows how my print store built on this Squarespace site takes payments via credit cards and paypal.

My print store accepting credit cards and paypal as forms of payment, subject to 3% commission taken by Squarespace.

My print store accepting credit cards and paypal as forms of payment, subject to 3% commission taken by Squarespace.

In these situations, credit cards are the best option. Most online payment gateways make this transaction a smooth one by integrating Paypal as well. This is an effective means to help customers avoid the often expensive international bank wiring fees and currency exchange commissions.

Though for entirely local transactions, credit cards are less commonly used because that involves a commission per transaction. It makes sense for international transfers because the commission is usually lower that what would otherwise be charged.

But for local transactions, this extra cost is neither necessary for photographers nor customers to bear.

When do you Pay Photographers?

In most cases, photographer charges a prepayment amounting to a percentage of the total photography fee, and collect the rest on the day of the shoot. This will be the case for most wedding and portrait photographers, because it is necessary to cover any up-front costs involved in the photographer’s work, such as location scouting and hiring assistants. For commercial clients, payments usually take place after an invoice has been issued, typically up to 30 days, 60 or even more.

Do you Pay Photographers Upfront?

Yes. Generally, the industry norm for retail photography is a 50% prepayment. This covers upfront expenses of the photographer such as booking venues, hiring assistants and props. It also locks in a designated time slot that otherwise can be taken by another client. For commercial jobs, payment terms vary to a greater extent.

Do Photographers Get Paid Before or After?

The industry norm for retail photography is that photographers take a 50% prepayment before the shoot, and the remaining balance on the day of the shoot. Any extra purchases such as edits or prints will be paid after the shoot as such requests are made. For commercial or editorial jobs, payment terms may vary depending on the corporation’s common practices.

My Personal Practice

Generally, I have heard quite a few photographers in the community ask for a 50% prepayment before the shoot.

I myself think this quite a reasonable amount to put down in most situations - it is a safe amount to go for if you are new to the photography business and have limited experience in relation to retainers.

Though also note that for some situations in which the total price of the photography service is rather large, slightly adjustments should be made according to societal or culture norms, depending on where the services are rendered.

Whereas in other situations, for clarity‘s sake, parties might opt to settle the payment in full advance to the shoot.

I have personally collected up-front payments both in full and in part. The bottom line is that some sum must be paid pre-shoot.

As to how much exactly the prepayment, that will depend on the type of shoot concerned, as well as what the parties are the most comfortable with.

What is the Purpose of the Upfront payment?

The retainer does a couple of things for both the photographer and the client.

For the client, paying this initial sum of money ensures that your slot has been blocked out on the photographer’s calendar, and prevents him from further advertising the same slot to other potential clients.

It also makes a rescheduling or cancellation policy possible should any contingencies come up. The client can be assured that he reserves the right to pick another time slot because he has paid the retainer, while the photographer can be assured that it is unlikely that the client cancels last-minute.

A retainer has to be non-refundable for the above to work. On the side note, the ‘retainer’ has to be referred to as the ‘retainer’ and not ‘deposit’ in contracts. In practice this might make little difference, but in some states, ‘deposits’ are taken to mean refundable sums. To steer yourselves clear of potential complexities, ‘retainer’ is the proper way of referring to this up-front payment.

For the photographer, the retainer also contributes towards covering gear rentals, hiring assistants and any other expenses incurred before the shoot. This allows a better cash flow for the photography business as otherwise the photographer will have to pay for these expenses out of his own pocket before any revenue comes in.

When are the Instalments Due?

For the ease of explanation, the instalments listed here are the most common ones, namely a retainer, the balance (of the photography package) and additional purchases.


When exactly to set the due date for the retainer is up to the photographer. I normally set the due date approximately one week before my preparation work has to start, assuming the shoot goes on as usual on the agreed date.

Though personally as a freelance photographer, I don’t accord too much importance to this issue.

As explained above, the retainer acts not only in the photographer’s interest, but that of the client as well.

Before the retainer is paid, the time slot remains open for advertisement. This is a strong incentive for clients to pay the retainer if they have decided to shoot with a photographer.

Seldom would a committed client delay the retainer; the only reason why a client doesn’t seem to have the sense of urgency to pay is because he is not entirely sure if he in fact wants to shoot with you.

And if such is the case, setting a deadline means little either.

All clients I have shot paid the retainer promptly.

And not only that; they actually made sure that I knew that they were going to pay, when and how.

So for example, the job requires the photographer to start preparation one week before the date of the shoot. Counting backwards, the photographer might set the due date for the deposit at two weeks prior to the shoot.

The Balance

One straightforward way some photographers choose to go down is to require payment on the day of the shoot, immediately after the shoot.

This works for certain genres of shoot, though in situations where the sum outstanding is considerably huge, or that the situation after the shoot can be chaotic, it is best to ask for the remainder to be paid at a later time.

A typical scenario is weddings. The weds have so much to think about that the last thing they would want to be bothered with is to pay the photographer a few hundred bucks.

Or in some other cases, the weather was so terrible that everyone is quite literally half-dead after a full day’s shoot, to give an example.

This is where more variation comes into play. Apart from that, sometimes the client might have asked for additional services not included in the original package.

For example, the shoot might have overrun which requires them to pay for overtime shooting, or that they might have already decided that they are ordering more shots than the package initially includes.

In cases where additional fees arise while a balance is still outstanding, it is advisable for the photographer to collect these two parts in one go, to save the client some hassle.

The way I see it is this: return final images after you have been paid in full. That is the most important thing, the rest is up to the photographer’s workflow and preference.

Some photographers demand full payment upon the presentation of proof. (If you are new and wonder what ‘photo proofing’ means, read my earlier article “Share Photos with Clients the Professional Way (for FREE)”. Quite literally, photo proofs are created to provide clients with a proof that indeed the images have been taken, to a decent quality.)

So this means that the photographer starts editing after the client has paid.

Some photographers demand full payment upon the approval of the final product. Now this method requires a platform through which clients can view but not download the images. In the same article linked above, I have walked through a few online photo proofing platforms for this purpose.

In this latter case, the photographer simply enables downloads after the client has paid.

Most of the time, there is no rule on the exact deadline for payment, because the entire process is like a dance between the photographer and the client. Getting paid is less about setting rigid deadlines, and more about effective communication and experience in business dealing.

After Services/ Additional Purchases

So in this case, the client has settled the balance in the originally agreed package, but now makes a separate request for additional services.

These usually are in form of one-off tasks, such as making prints, delivering extra edits, enabling access etc.

And because these are one-off tasks, along similar lines, collect payment in full before rendering the services.

For Photographers: How to Get Paid on Time?

This is another question that bothers quite a many photographers, especially novice freelancers.

The first part of the answer requires that you first come up with your own standard of ‘on time’.

Are you a strict ‘deadline’ kind of person? Or are you mostly content with dancing along your clients as the music plays?

The second part is this. We have already touched onto this point in the previous section because of its utmost importance.

Insist to get paid in full before rendering services in full. The imposter in you might be creating excuses now, leading you to think that it is unfair on the customer to make them pay you first.

But think about it, they were at the shoot that day too, and they saw the pictures. They could be sure that you did take the pictures - more so if you already showed them proof.

So you have done a rather good job in reassuring them that their photos are safe and sound with you. This is why it makes all the sense there is to demand full payment before returning final retouched images.

For Photographers: What if a Client Refuses to Pay?

At the first instance, this sounds like quite a daunting idea to deal with. You are trained to take photos, not to bargain, let alone to sue.

But the catch is, you will not even be in such a dire position if you understood how to ensure payment.

Here it is again: provide final images only after you have been paid in full.

Now of course, there is still a possibility of the client not paying.

The result is simply that, you do nothing and they don’t get back their photos.

This becomes a rather unnecessary question, because who, out of their ordinary minds, would pay you a retainer, attend a photoshoot with you, see you edit the photos and decide that they don’t want any of those?

And if you are not convinced, a signed contract would be your last resort. Where properly drafted, it should dictate how disputes are to be resolved in relation to scope of work, rates, image quality and editing aesthetics.


In this article, we talked about:

  • What forms of payments are usually accepted? Bank transfers/ Cash/ Credit Card?

  • When do you pay photographers?

  • Why are up-front payments taken?

  • When are the instalments (usually retainer and balance) paid respectively?

  • For Photographers: How to ensure timely payment?

  • For Photographers: What if client refuses to pay?

More sharing coming soon!

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