COVID-19 Wedding Photography FAQ
This is a guide for couples who are looking to book their wedding vendors during a pandemic. While some information in this guide is unique to Ten.2.Ten Photography, some of the more generic information actually applies to all your vendors and all contracts you may enter. We are not lawyers but we have worked very closely with ours over the years and recently to learn everything we can about creating an agreement that protects both the couple and the business in this unprecedented time and have included this in our COVID-19 Wedding Photography FAQ page.
On a similar note… a lot of this information is just really difficult to deliver in solely a written format because it can seem very dry and without heart or empathy. Conversations about sensitive subjects like wedding cancellations and contract language are always best when active communication can be fostered; this means phone calls or zoom meetings. Without active communication, misinterpretation can easily happen. I included these questions in a COVID specific FAQ because I pride myself on being an open book, but it’s equally as important o continue discussing these matters in person so that nuances can be addressed and emotion can be acknowledged.
Q: Are you open?
A: During stay-at-home orders, we are not legally allowed to operate as we are non-essential businesses. This means we cannot actively shoot any kind of session other than a wedding ceremony (within group size limits and respecting all other public health measures) and our office hours are limited. Depending on how the re-opening framework is structured, outdoor sessions will likely be available much sooner than indoor shooting will. Exceptions are typically made for weddings (within the framework!) and we all know how confusing that framework can be, so please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask your specific questions about whether or not your session can proceed as per normal.
Q: What happens if I need to reschedule my wedding?
A: This is probably the most common question so we wanted to include it at the very top of our COVID-19 Wedding Photography FAQ page. All couples have the option to schedule if they feel that is best for them. While most couples are happy to work with whatever the restrictions may be, if you prefer to hold out for “normal” to return, we can discuss rescheduling your event. If you’re choosing to reschedule for whatever reason, a rescheduling fee is due at the time of choosing your new date. The moment you think you may want to reschedule, reach out to all your vendors to begin communications and to receive information on what the next steps are. Rescheduling involves active communication between a couple and vendors in order to choose a new date; please do not just choose a new date and then hope your vendors are available.
Q: How do we make sure you’re available for our new date?
A: Before you make the call to officially reschedule, discuss with all your vendors and ask them for their availability. Choosing a new date that works for all (or the majority) of vendors will help make the rescheduling process as easy as possible. Working together and actively communicating is key. As mentioned above, please don’t just choose a date and then hope your vendors are free – future dates are filling up fast!
Q: Are you available for 2022? Are dates filling up quicker right now?
A: Yes, we are booking for 2022 and early 2023 at the moment. The 2022 dates are absolutely filling up quickly! I would encourage any couple who is still looking for a Toronto wedding photographer for 2022 to consider securing as soon as possible, especially if your wedding is on a Friday or Saturday as those are the most popular days of the week.
For couples who are considering postponing their 2021 event and moving to 2022, please understand that dates are quite limited and your ideal date may not be available. If you’re thinking of postponing your 2021 event until 2022, contact your vendors ASAP to discuss availability and you may need to be open to a different month/season or day of the week.
Q: What happens if you’re not available for our new date?
A: If communication is happening and all parties are willing to look for a mutual solution, there should be little to no problems with not being available on the new date. If a couple only wants to pick a certain date/month with little to no flexibility or chooses a date outside of consulting us, their original retainer would be forfeit and we would wish them all the best in finding a new photographer that is available for their new date.
Q: I heard some people got refunded because of ‘force majeure’, does that apply to me?
A: We can go down quite the rabbit hole on this one, but I’ll try to keep it simple. Speaking in general terms for the wedding industry as a whole, in the first wave of the pandemic, some couples may have qualified for partial refunds or penalty-free rescheduling based on force majeure clauses in their contracts. Back in March of 2020, COVID was not only unprecedented, but many small businesses realized that their contracts had vague language in them. Force Majeure is a legal term that has extremely specific language; it applies when an unforseen and unexpected event occurs where it’s impossible to fulfil a contract. This was true for couples in March-July of 2020; it was illegal to even have a wedding ceremony and it was illegal for photographers to work.
Since then, not only has Ontario framework allowed wedding related gatherings in some capacity, citing force majeure regarding COVID also does not apply for any client who signed a contract after March of 2020 and the reason is this: Force majeure is for unforseen and unexpected circumstances. You cannot sign a contract during a pandemic and then claim to be surprised if you’re affected by said pandemic.
If you wish to reschedule your event citing COVID, there is a rescheduling fee that will apply for your new date. If you’re unsure if you want to take the risk associated with initiating a new contract during a pandemic, I would encourage you to hold off on hiring your vendors until you feel more comfortable entering a contract.
Q: What if I want to cancel all together?
A: Some couples have decided to put their wedding plans on hold indefinitely which means they don’t want to reschedule and choose a new date at the moment. If you feel this is the best route for you, the standard cancellation clause in your contract will apply regardless of your reason to cancel (COVID vs non-COVID, etc.)
Q: What if I don’t want to have a small wedding, I want to wait for “normal”!
A: COVID has caused most couples to have to pivot and re-think their wedding plans. While most couples are cool with the idea of having a microwedding because they don’t want to put their lives on hold, not everyone wants to work with the restrictions and wants to hold out for “normal” to return. You’re absolutely allowed to want to wait if that’s your personal preference. You can reschedule your event and a rescheduling fee will apply. Your retainer is to reserve us for a date and if you’re choosing not to use that date, the rescheduling process will need to be followed if you’d like to continue your contract with us.
This is by far the most difficult question to address and can come across as harsh, so if this is your primary concern, I encourage you to have open and honest conversations with your vendors so the nuances and intricacies can be addressed. With that, please bear in mind that nobody knows, with any certainty, when normal will return. What happens if 2022 rolls around and there are still group size limits, mask mandates or travel restrictions? This time last year we all thought 2021 would be normal yet here we are… knowing your end point and knowing when rescheduling is no longer an option is important.
Q: What’s the purpose of a retainer?
A: Depending on how many online communities and forums you’re a part of, you may have been exposed to misinformation about the purpose of retainers. A retainer is not pre-payment for services. A retainer is used to “hold” somebody (and their services) for a certain date; holding means that person will turn away any other paying clients.
When you put a retainer down for a date, you’re essentially saying:
This is another one of those statements that can be difficult to convey through written words only, so putting them into a COVID-19 Wedding Photography FAQ can be a bit intimidating for some reasons. As always, I encourage you to have open and honest conversations with your vendors and both parties should do their best to approach the conversation with understanding and empathy.
Q: Are retainers refundable?
A: No, retainers are non-refundable. Retainers are not pre-payment for service, retainers are to compensate any vendor for turning away others. By having your date formally reserved, you are getting the service the retainer pays for.
Every contract has very specific language, so always read your contracts thoroughly and ask questions – but generally speaking, force majeure will not apply for retainer return, especially if you signed your contract after March 2020.
Q: Can I sell my contract to another couple?
A: Some Facebook wedding forums and groups encourage couples to sell their contracts to other couples. We’ve seen this quite frequently with venues but remember: just because we’re all in the wedding industry doesn’t mean that different vendors can be compared to one another. Photographer contracts are non-transferable for many reasons, most importantly because photography is an art with an established esthetic and it’s imperative that a new couple is a good fit for not only our esthetics but our approach and company values.
If you think you have a friend who could easily take over your contract for the date and amount, we would be open to considering it should all the important pieces fit together, but the reality of that occurring is (truthfully) minimal and we wouldn’t want you to get your hopes up about an accommodation that may not be able to happen.
Q: What happens if my photographer has a COVID exposure or gets sick before my wedding?
A: We would treat any illness the same way we have in the last decade+ of operations; if your photographer is unable to make it, we’ll ensure an exceptionally talented replacement will be there in lieu. We respect public health guidelines and will adhere to them 100% should any illness arise. Thankfully, though, Erika is already fully vaccinated and has been for several months (hooray for also being in healthcare?) so the risk of getting COVID is minimal at this point.
Q: I know there are guidelines and limits to group sizes, but we may be a “tad liberal” with that – are you okay with that?
A: Operating a business during COVID can be scary because as a business, our fines are considerably more than yours would be as individuals, if we’re caught operating in conditions that are contradictory to the re-opening act and public health guidelines. Aside from the financial impact of fines, ethically we cannot contribute to any scenarios that may contribute to the spreading of the virus or endanger anyone present.
It’s worth noting, if anyone is reading this and thinking “Bah, whatever, I’ll just do it anyways and won’t tell them.” your vendors likely can walk away for one of two reasons: (1) if they have a health + safety clause in their contract they can leave if they feel unsafe and (2) a contract cannot be legally fulfilled if you have to do or be a part of something illegal in order to fulfill your obligations. This means if laws (including bylaws and mandates) state that gatherings over a certain size are prohibited, your vendors do not have to fulfil their duties if doing so violates any laws, bylaws or mandates.
Q: My other vendors are giving refunds/not charging rescheduling fees, why are you?
A: Every vendor is different; just because we’re all in the wedding industry doesn’t mean we have the same abilities to pivot during these difficult times nor the same government and monetary support options so please do not compare vendors and policies. While caterers can pivot and sell meal kits and individually packaged boxed meals to corporate and individuals clients and while florists can still sell flowers for non-wedding reasons, photographers can’t package up their services and sell them. We are our services and unless someone or something is in front of our lenses, we can’t really pivot much.
Reality check – photographers have had little to no income since the beginning of 2020; many of my colleagues are already making plans to get out of the industry because while their pond used to have many fish in it, their pond is close to empty…. and you can’t fish from an empty pond. This is why not all vendors are able to simply return non-refundable monies or proceed without rescheduling fees.
Q: Small businesses are suffering greatly as a result of this pandemic, how have you made sure Ten·2·Ten will still be around next year?
A: We started our business just before the 2008 economic crisis and that taught us something very important: weddings are volatile so don’t put your eggs in only one basket. This means we were pivoting before it was cool. Does that mean we haven’t been affected by the pandemic? Oh god no – the financial loss is irrecoverable but we have put steps and systems in place to “hibernate” our business during these difficult times and rely on our emergency backup plan throughout 2021. We try to do this with minimal impact to clients although office hours have been reduced which means reply time is a wee bit longer.
One of the reasons that we’ll be around and make it through the pandemic is because we’ve always had equitable and well-balanced policies within our contracts that our clients have happily understood are a necessity during these times. What has been keeping us in business is our amazing clients and we are forever grateful for each and every one of you!