What’s the difference between an engagement session and pre-wedding photos? Learn about this unique session type and how to market it to your clients!
What’s a Pre-Wedding Photo Session?
Pre-wedding pictures are a lot like engagement sessions. They take place before the wedding day, and they feature a couple in love! So what makes these photos different?
- A pre-wedding shoot takes place any time before a couple’s wedding date—even the day before!
- These sessions are not focused on ring shots, proposal recreations, or getting a picture for a newspaper announcement.
- Pre-wedding pictures are perfect for crafting themed images that can hang in the couple’s home for years to come.
With a pre-wedding shoot, your couple can celebrate their love story before they officially tie the knot!
Get Your Clients on the Pre-Wedding Shoot Bandwagon!
When you’re establishing your pricing, give your clients the option to book both an engagement session and a pre-wedding photo shoot. Couples who love to be photographed will jump at the chance for more pictures. And photographers who love money (*ahem* Who doesn’t?) can maximize their profit by adding a pre-wedding photo shoot option to their packages.
Let’s Recap: Engagement Photo Shoot Vs. Pre-Wedding Shoot
An engagement photo shoot typically takes an hour or two of shooting time, and couples show up with one or two outfits at most. All in all, an engagement photo shoot is short, sweet, and simple, with images designed to be used in save-the-date cards or on a wedding website.
Pre-wedding pictures, however, are meant to tell a broader story. Most photographers collaborate closely with their clients to develop a narrative for this session. You’re not just making beautiful portraits; you’re telling a story about this couple’s life together.
How to Market a Pre-Wedding Photo Shoot
Any married couple will acknowledge: getting engaged is super-exciting! But the proposal and the ring and the engagement party and the wedding showers… those are all one-time celebrations that have almost nothing to do with the couple’s normal, everyday life together.
Inspire your clients to enhance their photo experience with a pre-wedding series of lifestyle images that reveal their unique companionship.
Add Pre-Wedding Pictures to Your Portfolio
Get your clients familiar with the term pre-wedding pictures by adding a new section to your website. If you haven’t shot many of these sessions yet, you can snag a few of your most elaborate engagement portraits to feature as examples. Then reach out to a couple of extra-fun couples to do a portfolio-building photo shoot!
Flood Your Social Media with Inspiration
Start talking about your pre-wedding approach on social media—but don’t just halfheartedly post an image. Use these story-focused sessions to share pieces of your clients’ personal story! You can use your own words to impart details you learn during their session, or ask the couple to complete a simple questionnaire. These questions will help you develop a simple, sweet narrative that you can use to craft your social media content:
- What makes you two perfect for each other?
- When did you first know you were in love with him/her/them?
- What shared passions keep you connected?
- Describe why you chose this theme/location/adventure for your pre-wedding shoots.
Keep your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and even LinkedIn updated with fun, new content. The more you show up for couples on social media, the more exposure your business has; and that creates brand awareness.
Your Blog is Your Brand’s Best Friend
When you regularly update your blog, you tell the internet that you’re actively working and worth referring. Write blog articles about the types of photography you want to book, and demonstrate your expertise with tips, ideas, and insights from other sessions. If you have plenty of blog content about pre-wedding pictures, you’ll be better equipped to convince your clients to book one!
Create a Teaser Video
If you’re ready to really up your game, invest in a second shooter or videographer who can help you create a marketing video. A simple one- to three-minute video can give your potential clients a sneak peek into what their own pre-wedding photo experience can be!
Pay for Advertising
Advertise your pre-wedding photography on platforms like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, and more. You could even post ads to Pinterest for couples who are traveling to your area and are looking for this type of photography. If you’re not familiar with the best way to target paid ads, this is a great resource.
Ask Happy Clients for Reviews
Don’t just wait around, hoping your clients will review you online. ASK them to share their experience! The final step of every client experience should be an invitation for them to review your services online.
Review platforms like Yelp, Google, and Facebook can have a tremendous impact on your business’ long-term success. When a couple leaves you a glowing review, be sure to thank them! You can write a simple email, send them a hand-written note, or even surprise them with a gift print or a gift card to the local coffee shop.
Positive online reviews are some of the best, free advertising you could ever hope for, so it’s well worth your time to show gratitude for each review—even (or especially) if it includes constructive criticism.
If you get a not-so-great review, use that as an opportunity to practice your customer service skills and reevaluate your methods. Your best business coaches are often the people who have personal experience with you. Instead of ignoring a disappointing review, take the time to respond with gratitude and thoughtfulness.
Create an Experience They Won’t Forget
Get creative, and truly make your pre-wedding photos an experience for your clients. If you’re a Singapore bridal photographer, for example, you can promote pre-wedding photos in a stunning area location. With a smart landing page and some clever keyword research, you can even market these sessions to tourists and travelers!
If you work in a small community, consider booking regular photo shoot days in the nearest big city. Headed to New York City from New Jersey? Encourage your local couples to schedule their own day trip to NYC! After all, who doesn’t want photos in iconic locations like the Empire State Building, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge? Throw in a questionably fresh hot dog or a dripping ice cream cone, and you have all the makings of a fun photo shoot!
You can easily invest an entire day of shooting into this experience, so price your session options accordingly.
#ShootProofPRO Tip: Take ALL Your Costs Into Account
Photo sessions that last more than a couple hours can wind up nickel-and-diming you at every turn. Your clients need water; you want them to buy ice cream for a picture; it costs money to get into the botanical gardens; you have to pay for a photography permit in the local park: whatever the case, make sure to account for the unexpected expenses when you’re creating your price list!
What Should Your Couples Wear for Their Pictures?
Has a client ever claimed to dislike their photos only to explain, “I hate my outfit!”? If you haven’t experienced this yet, just wait. There’s nothing quite as devastating as capturing a gorgeous collection of memories only for a client’s clingy blouse or saggy pants to ruin their enjoyment.
Help your clients choose a wardrobe that photographs beautifully, feels great, and inspires their confidence!
Keep it Casual
Jeans and t-shirts are the name of the game for some couples. If your clients can’t imagine dressing up for their pre-wedding photos, encourage them to at least consider bringing some unique layering pieces. Even the most basic outfit can be elevated to the next level with one of these items:
- blazer or jacket
- hat or headdress
- scarf or bandana
- statement jewelry
No matter how low-key your clients are, give them clear guidance to at least wear nice shoes. Nothing ruins a gorgeous portrait like an old pair of dog-chewed, sweat-stained sneakers!
If you’re photographing a bride (or brides), find out if they have plans to book a hair and makeup trial with their wedding day stylist. Post-makeover could be the perfect time to schedule a super-glam session!
For clients who prefer a glamorous look, be sure to discuss how their wardrobe will coordinate with the photo shoot locations. You don’t want anyone dragging their tux through a muddy field unless they’ve specifically signed up for that situation.
Most couples prefer a semi-formal approach to their outfit selection. Nothing too fancy or too relaxed, but a perfect balance of elegant and easy.
Communicate about color and shape so your clients’ clothes will complement one another. And if you have a What to Wear Pinterest board, this is a great time to share it!
Dramatic & Thematic
Encourage your couples to go all out with their outfit choices—especially if they’ve chosen an extra-epic location! Here are some examples:
- wear 50’s-inspired outfits for photos in an old movie theater
- choose sequins and satin for pictures in a breathtaking ballroom
- opt for Western wear if you’re visiting a horse ranch
- day at the beach? Couples should invest in cute swimsuits, fun cover-ups, and sun-shielding hats!
The best part of a dramatic outfit? There’s always the chance that those fun, thematic photos will go viral when you post them on Instagram!
What About Wedding Clothes?
In parts of Asia, photographers have been reimagining bridal photography for several years, expanding their traditional wedding portrait services into global travel experiences where couples are photographed for days—or weeks—on end. Pre-wedding photos are an integral part of modern weddings in China, South Korea, Japan, and other locales throughout east Asia, with couples wear their wedding day outfits for photos at an impressive array of landmarks.
As this trend eases its way west, there are a few things Western photographers should know before they encourage their clients to wear their wedding outfits:
- Make sure there is plenty of time for dry-cleaning between the pre-wedding photos and the wedding
- Consult your attorney about adding a clause releasing you of liability should a wedding dress get damaged
- Arrange in advance for clothes to be steamed and ironed if travel is involved
- Research any necessary photo permits you need, and obtain them in advance, if possible
- Consider bringing a second shooter or photo assistant to help arrange clothing and keep things moving efficiently
The Best Locations for Pre-Wedding Photos
You know what’s awesome about pre-wedding photos? The sky is the limit. If your clients aren’t sure where to begin, guide them to think about:
- the hobbies they share
- their favorite vacation together
- the memories they want to carry into the start of their new journey together
These prompts can help you craft a one-of-a-kind experience for each unique couple.
Picture it: rippled sand and salty waves and a gentle breeze… Who doesn’t love a beach? Just take the time to scout your beach location in advance so you can avoid crowds and make the most of the “good light.” Come prepared with bottles of water if it’s hot out, and plan for a photo break between locations so your clients can change out of their beach clothes.
If you’ll be at the beach as the sun sets, experiment with making beautiful silhouette portraits like these!
Monuments and Landmarks
There are two major factors to consider if you’re planning pre-wedding photos at a monument or a landmark. First, do you need a permit? And second, will the area be too crowded for good photos? For example, you don’t need a permit to do a photo shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge, but it can be nearly impossible to make great pictures when the tourists flood in!
One of the our favorite trends in this photography niche is the adventure photo session. Forests and field, mountains and lakes, horseback riding and hiking, skydiving and snowboarding: photographers enjoy this type of photo shoot as much as their clients!
Keep in mind, your clients will almost certainly need more than one outfit and a change of shoes if they opt to go adventuring with you. And since adventure locations can take time to get to, you may need to block out more photo shoot time than usual. The pre-planning will be worth it, though, when you deliver a set of cinematic images to your overjoyed couple!
Don’t Forget the Photography Permit
Wherever you are taking pictures, ensure that you ask in advance if you’ll need a photography permit. In some places, you can simply walk up and pay a small fee for a same-day permit. Occasionally, however, you’ll need to complete a permit application and get it approved well before the session. Work closely with your clients to ensure you’ve gotten any and all necessary permissions and permits!
#ShootProofPRO Tip: Don’t Pay for Permits
To be clear, we don’t mean you should try trespassing. What you should do, however, is not pay for your photography permits yourself! Either charge enough that a $250 photo permit is no big deal, or notify your clients in advance that they’ll be responsible for any permit fees. A profitable photo shoot can quickly become a financial drain if you don’t consider these incidental costs.
How to Set Your Pricing
If you haven’t done a deep dive into your ideal client market, this is a great time to start! Your pricing isn’t just about revenue and expenses. Pricing is as much about your brand as your logo and your editing style.
You want each component of your photography brand to align. Your images, website, social media, and rates should complement each other in a way that feels reasonable and cohesive to potential clients.
How Much Should You Charge for Pre-Wedding Photos?
You already understand how to calculate your costs for a photo shoot, right? If not, get to work on that HERE. Once you know that it will cost you to do a pre-wedding photo shoot, you can determine a mark-up that’s appropriate to your clientele.
In addition to creating a data-driven pricing structure, you may want to investigate what other photographers charge for similar sessions. You don’t want to copy other photographers’ pricing, but it’s always wise to know where you stand in the industry.
#ShootProofPRO Tip: Your Time is $$$
Never make the mistake of giving away your time. Even if you only pay yourself $5 per hour, you need to establish a metric for valuing your time and making sure you’re running a sustainable business.
Create Hourly Packages
An elaborate pre-wedding session could easily cost as much as a weekend of bridal photography. If you serve a budget market, you should scale back your photo packages accordingly.
Hourly packages are a great way to craft a range of session options for diverse needs. For example, a one- or two-hour pre-wedding session might cost the same as an engagement photo shoot, while a multi-day photo experience would obviously cost much more.
Don’t forget to offer printed products as part of your pre-wedding photo packages!
Factor in Editing Costs
Whether you outsource your post-production or handle it all yourself, you need to factor in a cost for that work. Either you’ll pay an editing company, or you will pay yourself your own hourly rate.
It’s smart to pay yourself at least what it would cost you to pay someone else for the same job. This way, even if you get sick or have a family emergency, your clients can be taken care of.
When will You Shoot?
Clients love to photo shoot on the weekend, don’t they? Does that actually work for you? You never want to book a small job on a day when you’re likely to book a much larger job, like a wedding. Don’t hesitate to establish blackout dates when you won’t accept certain bookings.
You may also need to define seasons when you’re available for certain types of photography. If summer is your busiest time of year, consider blocking off your summer calendar to sessions that don’t contribute to your long-term business goals.
How Much will You Work?
When you know your personal expenses and your business costs, you can determine how much you need to gross each year. That number will guide the quantity of sessions you need to book.
Putting this very simply: if you need to gross $75,000 per year, then you’ll need to book:
- 75 $1,000 sessions, OR
- 10 $7,500 sessions, OR
- 50 $500 sessions AND 25 $2,000 sessions
You get the drill.
Don’t fall into the trap of charging too little for too long. It’s one thing to offer introductory rates; it’s another matter completely to develop a reputation as “the cheap photographer.”
Tips for an Amazing Pre-Wedding Photography Experience
Your photos are great; your marketing is on-point; and excellent reviews are pouring in! Here are a few tips to keep your business growing and thriving.
Research Your Competition
Do your research and look at what other photographers are doing for modern pre-wedding photos. Are other brands in your area offering these types of sessions? How does their ideal client compare to yours? What sets your work apart from other similar sessions?
Use your findings to inform your marketing efforts and inspire future work. You might even find a small community of photographers who are eager to share their own experiences with pre-wedding photos!
Plan Your Concept Carefully
Pre-wedding photos work best when you develop a creative concept first. Collaborate with your clients to identify the kinds of photos they’re hoping for.
Don’t be scared to utilize a collaborative mood board or Pinterest board to help define the vibe your clients are after. Be sure to remind your couple, however, that “while I don’t duplicate other photographers’ work, I’m thrilled to see what inspires you!” Your clients will be happy that you’re willing to explore their ideas alongside them.
Keep an Eye on the Weather
If you’ll be shooting outdoors, keep an eye on the weather during the week leading up to your photo shoot. Brainstorm a contingency plan with your couple in case of rain on their photo shoot date. Sometimes a couple is able to reschedule, but that isn’t always an option. If rescheduling won’t work, you’ll want to have a series of indoor options pre-selected. Consider booking at Airbnb or getting pre-approval to do a photo shoot in an iconic store. Your clients will be thrilled to hear your ideas, and even happier to know they’re in good hands.
Be Prepared & Arrive On Time
It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: be prepared, and arrive on time. You can’t afford to waste a day or disappoint your clients, so create a basic checklist that will keep you on track. Your checklist should remind you to:
- charge your batteries
- clean your lenses
- format your memory cards
On Time? How About Early…
Show up early to your photo shoot location and scout out any unexpected challenges or exciting places to photo shoot. Even if you’ve scouted the location in advance or shot there before, you never know if unanticipated construction or crowds might derail your plans. And since most photography is scheduled for the “sweet light” of early evening, an early arrival will prevent you from wasting any of your valuable daylight.
Do You Know Why Pre-Wedding Photos Matter?
You must be equipped to educate your clients on the value of pre-wedding photos. Not everyone’s motivations are the same, so develop your own narrative around why you offer this unique niche. Answer these questions, and use your heartfelt responses to craft marketing copy, blog articles, social media posts, and even your client emails.
- Why should a couple invest in pre-wedding photography?
- What can couples do with the photos from their session?
- How can you create a client experience that your couple will remember for years to come?
Sell Prints and Photo Products
Don’t just upload the photos to a ShootProof gallery and call it a day. Now’s your chance to connect your clients to incredible products like gift prints, framed wall prints, canvas gallery wraps, heirloom albums, and even custom cards.
Are You Ready to Become a Pre-Wedding Photographer?
Pre-wedding photos are both super-satisfying and incredibly lucrative—if they’re marketed correctly!
Hone your marketing skills, practice your pre-wedding photography skills, and keep your clients updated on all your latest offerings. Most importantly, fine-tune the elements of your business that set you apart from your competition. This doesn’t mean you’re “better;” it just means you offer something uniquely desirable to your specific clientele.
Once you’re ready to promote your pre-wedding sessions, send a fun email to your client list letting them know: you’re open for booking! Consider offering an early-bird discount to the first few couples who book a pre-wedding photo shoot with you. A referral program can also help you get the word out. For example, “Get a FREE collection of 4×6 gift prints when your friend books, too!” or “Share this email with a friend, and you’ll both earn 20% off your next investment with me!”
Show Us Your Work
Already shooting pre-wedding photos? Have any gorgeous examples you’d like to share? Leave a comment below with a link to your own inspiring sessions!
Megan Breukelman is a Brooklyn-based photographer, marketer, and host of the Photo Opp Podcast. She aims to eat cupcakes and help photographers build on their passions.