It’s with a heavy heart that I write about wedding photography cancellation.  It’s something that is a fear of brides, grooms and photographers alike.  It’s not a subject to be taken light heartedly.  That being said, in the last few months, I have seen countless questions come up in wedding photographer groups that are something like this: “Here’s the situation…. is it okay to cancel?”

While some of the situations were downright heartbreaking, some had my head spinning due to the fact that the decision seemed obvious (at least to me) that the booking should be maintained.

I wanted to shed some light on wedding photographer cancellations and share my perspective on the situation to help other photographers out there who may be struggling with this question.

merchant of green coffee wedding photos 579 - Wedding Photography Cancellation: When is it Okay?
Merchant of Green Coffee wedding photos. Image by Toronto wedding photographer Ten·2·Ten Photography ( ©2015

Weekends don’t exist; you need to accept that: First, I want to start off with something that I feel is fairly obvious but I saw lacking in many of the online discussions.  As a wedding photographer, our job normally takes us away on Saturdays (and even on a lot of Sundays) and typically during some of the most fun-filled months of the year.  While the rest of the world takes summer vacation and the kids are off-school, we’re working.  You need to accept the fact that there will be plenty of fun and awesome things you will miss if you are a wedding photographer.  If you can’t accept that, you may want to consider exploring other genres of photography that don’t require you to be absent on the majority or your weekends or only accepting a limited amount of bookings in order to maximize your weekends for other projects.

Family reunions happen on weekends.

Bridal showers and baby showers happen on weekends.

Bbq’s and pool parties happen on weekends.

… and there’s a good chance you’re not going to be available for most of them – if any.

This is your job; cancellations are serious: The second thing I wanted to make sure I stated clearly is that wedding photography is a job.  Whether you work for yourself or work in an office for someone else, you need to take your job seriously.  Just because you’d rather be somewhere else doesn’t mean that it’s okay to justify cancelling on a client.

One of the things I saw thrown around on Facebook during these discussions was “You’ll regret not attending the event, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It’s better to have the memories from the event than going to some strangers wedding to take pictures.” or “Life isn’t just about working, it’s about your memories too.  If you’ll regret missing the other event, then cancel the wedding.”

I found that very odd because for me, my clients aren’t strangers.  They are people who I’ve grown close to, people whose story I have taken the time to learn and people whose wedding day means as much to me as it does to them.  I put my all into every wedding I photograph.  My clients choose me and I choose them; it’s a relationship we take on together.  By no means would I consider my clients strangers and the idea of cancelling a wedding a wedding is one that makes my heart pound and has me in cold sweats.  Yes, life is about making memories – but it’s also about keeping a roof over your head and food in the fridge.  It’s about paying your electricity bill and having enough left over to afford swimming lessons and piano lessons for your kids so they, too, can have a richer life.  Working is a fact of life.  It needs to get done.  You chose to be a wedding photographer which means you’re choosing to work on the weekends.  If you find yourself often contemplating cancelling, a re-evaluation of your priorities may be necessary.

So what is a justifiable cancellation?  My personal opinion is that only the most tragic of circumstances require the contemplation of cancellation.  For example, a final visit with a loved one who is very very ill or if you yourself are having a medical crisis that would affect your ability to capture the day.  These are the very rarely occurring circumstances in which I (personally) feel a cancellation may be justifiable.

But what if a close friend is getting married?  If your friend was that close to you, they would understand that your job requires you to book yourself 1+ years in advance.  They would consult you prior to setting a date.  Seems harsh? Okay, maybe a little.  But my family and close friends have always asked me in advance if I’m available before setting dates for important parties or family weddings and those who haven’t asked have always understood that if I’m booked, I won’t be attending.

But what if my kid has an event going on that day? This is something I’ve contemplated ad nauseum over the years as we talked about whether or not to have children.  Now that we’re expecting, the years of discussing the “what if” situations have provided me piece of mind.  While I know I’ll regret missing swim meets, music recitals, dance recitals or plays – in our household, it will be common knowledge and a fact of life that mommy works on most Saturdays.  It’s going to suck.  I know it will.  But it’s the life I’ve chosen.  If it gets to the point where I’m filled with regret for missing out on too much, I just may scale back and shoot less.  But until that day comes, I have to make my decisions with my business brain and that decision is to commit to my clients.

So why did I bother writing this article?  Wouldn’t it be to my advance to let my colleagues cancel weddings?  After all, it means more clients for me and the opportunity of my colleagues ruining their reputation if they cancel one to many times.

I wrote this article because I truly believe that there is a growing number of very talented people in our industry who are forgetting what customer service means and whose actions can cast a cloud of negativity on our industry.  As a bride of groom, having your wedding photographer cancel on you is a huge stressor and as a business owner, cancelling on a client is something that truly should be a last resort option.  While working on weekends means that you miss out on a lot (there’s no doubt about that) if you’re working with the right clients and loving your job, you’ll leave each and every wedding feeling great, too.