Commercial Photography Cancellation Fee, Why, How Much & When

by | Commercial Photography 101, Legal & Contracts, Workflow & Processes | 0 comments

commercial photography cancellation fee

If you have ever wondered: ‘what is a commercial photography cancellation fee and how much should I charge for it?’, this article is for you.

If you haven’t already, please read my article What to Charge for a Commercial Photography Advance before you read this one.

In that article I talk about the importance of charging all of your clients advances against their photo shoot fees. This should be a non-negotiable policy in your business.

Once you have the advance, then you need to decide what portion of it is reasonable to keep in the case of cancellation on the part of your client.

But before I get to that, I’ll circle back around to points #3 and #4 in the aforementioned article.

#3- The advance protects the photographer from lost revenue in the case of cancellation.

#4- It covers expenses incurred prior to the photo shoot.

Why it’s important to charge a cancellation fee

First, if you incur any expenses prior to a shoot that your client ultimately cancels, they should be obligated to pay for 100% of project-related expenses you incur prior to their cancellation. You wouldn’t have incurred those expenses had it not been for your client’s needs, so it’s totally fair and reasonable for your client to pay for those expenses.

Exceptions: if the expense is something you would have purchased anyway, and had already budgeted for it, then it’s reasonable to waive it/cover it yourself. (Use your best judgment here.)

Second, if you have held the space on your calendar for your client’s project (several days to several weeks), and have prevented other clients from booking during that time period (as I address in point #5 in the previous article), then you need to be compensated for that time and lost revenue.

Unlike retail photography, you can’t just slide in another commercial client at the last minute to book that space in your calendar. So you are out of a job and out of revenue when a client cancels.

Now that you know why you should charge a cancellation fee, let’s move on to how much.

Average commercial photography cancellation fees and dates

Most commercial photographers charge a cancellation fee of 100% of the project-related expenses they incur, and 50% of their Creative Fee (photography + usage fees), for photo shoots that clients cancel. 

Many photographers also increase the cancellation fee the closer the cancellation date is to the photo shoot date.

For example, if the client cancels the shoot within five days of the first day of the shoot, the photographer may increase the fee to 75%. Within 48 hours: 100%. Etc.

My recommendation:

  • Always collect 100% of expenses incurred
  • Collect 50% of photography + usage fees regardless of when the shoot was canceled
  • Increase the amount to 75% if the shoot is canceled within 5-7 days before the shoot. (You need to decide here- does 5 days seem reasonable? 6 days? 7 days? 10 days? What works best for your business and workflow?)
  • Increase the amount to 100% if the client cancels within anywhere from 48 hours up to the shoot start time. (Again- you need to decide, does 48 hours seem reasonable to charge a 100% cancellation fee? Or would you only do this if they cancel the day of, e.g. same-day cancellation?)

So your cancellation policy may look like this:

  • Standard cancellation fee: 50% of Creative Fee + 100% of expenses
  • Within 7 days: 75% of Creative Fee + 100% of expenses
  • Within 48 hours: 100% of Creative Fee + 100% of expenses

When it comes to deciding on percentages and dates, you need to decide what works best for your business, your schedule and your workflow.

What do to with your commercial photography cancellation fee

Include it in your contract/terms of use that you attach to your estimate, and also include it as estimate terms on the estimate itself.

It may look like this in the Terms of Use attached to the estimate (e.g. the commercial photography ‘contract’):

*In the case of cancellation or postponement of the shoot by the Client at any time for any reason after Client has signed the attached Estimate/Proposal, Client shall pay 100% of expenses incurred by Photographer up to the time of cancellation, plus a fee equal to 50% of the photography and usage fees (Creative fee).

In the case of cancellation on the part of the Client for any reason within 7 days prior to the scheduled shoot date start time, 75% of the Creative Fee will be due, in addition to 100% of previously-incurred project expenses.

In the case of cancellation on the part of the client within 48 hours from the photo shoot start time, 100% of the Creative fee and 100% of previously-incurred project-related expenses will be due.

(*Have the above reviewed by your attorney before using it. I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice.)

One important piece of advice: some photographers say that their cancellation policy is in force from the time of ‘project award’ (which is a bit of a nebulous concept and definitely not a legal action). But without a signed agreement you can’t really legally hold a client to something they didn’t legally agree to. (You could try, but it would be difficult to put it mildly.)

So this is why it’s so critical to get your estimate signed asap after a project has been awarded to you and the client has accepted the estimate.

The signature on the estimate is a clearly defined legal action, with a legally defined date, that makes it easy for all parties to refer to when enforcing a cancellation policy. (Including your attorney if it should ever- unfortunately- come to that!)

And the cancellation may look like this simple text in the estimate itself included in the estimate terms:

Job cancellation:

  • 50% of Creative Fee + 100% of expenses for Client cancellation at any time for any reason
  • Within 7 days: 75% of Creative Fee plus all incurred expenses;
  • Within 48 hours: 100% of Creative Fee, plus all incurred expenses.

If it’s a last-minute shoot you’ll need to get creative when it comes to what makes sense to charge for a cancellation fee, as well as when to charge it.

All that said, be flexible. 

Even when you have the policy in writing, it’s a good idea to consider each cancellation circumstance on a case-by-case basis when considering what and when to charge your commercial photography cancellation fee.

  • Did something reasonable and totally unavoidable come up on the client’s end?
  • Is this a client you want to work with again?
  • Can you be flexible on the amount and/or timing?

While you definitely should be compensated for the time, effort and money you invest into a project a client cancels, it can create enormous goodwill when you meet them in the middle with compassion and understanding.

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