5 Reasons to Cancel a Wedding Photography Contract

Sunday, August 30th, 2020



It floats around in wedding forums and help groups – “Our photographer did our (engagement session, pre-wedding session, etc,) and we’re NOT happy. We want to cancel our wedding service but aren’t sure if we should or how to even bring it up.”

First, you are not in the wrong, and this is a completely reasonable thing to consider. First impressions with a photographer can sometimes be completely different than what it’s like to work with them, and your experience is just as important as the end result. While there are a lot of variables in this situation, here’s a few reasons to totally bring up cancellation with your hired wedding photographer.

Remember: cancelling doesn’t mean you’ll get a refund of your retainer, especially in circumstances where you’re cancelling for personal reasons. Even though money matters, having valuable images that truly represent you and your marriage party ALSO matter – so heavily consider your reasons for cancelling, and make sure you’re confident in your decision. Additionally, your chances of getting any money back is completely dependent on the language used in the contract you signed, so be sure to reference those materials as you consider your options.

Here are 5 reasons to consider cancelling a wedding photography contract:

1. The engagement photos were technically bad.

Portfolios are photographers’ *best* work, so websites are filled with their most amazing images. The bummer part about this is that portfolios can sometimes be misleading, especially in the circumstance of newer photographers. Your entire gallery may be full of unintentionally blurry photos, missed smiles or slightly off facial expressions, or a lot of images where the focus is missed. If there are technical reasons (not personal reasons) that the images aren’t great, consider running them by some trusted friends and family – and if they agree, raise your concerns with your photographer. It’s possible they would be willing to re-shoot the engagement session to give you better results, but there’s a good chance they’ll say it’s “consistent with their work” and you’ll be out of luck.

Remember – when bringing up this as the reason for cancelling, you’ll want to make certain that the majority of the images have clear issues, as some photographers will still deliver a handful of images that may be “technically” bad, but have a certain feeling to them anyway.

Reason for cancelling: technical/logistical
Chance of receiving retainer back: 50%

When there are technical errors in photographs, many photographers can’t own up to them – especially since they are sometimes executed in the name of “art”. A lot of photographers have an ego about the work they create, and can get defensive when being told the images aren’t good. If you review your contract and your photographer is completely understanding and really focused on client joy, I’d say there’s a 50% chance you’ll get your retainer refunded to you when cancelling.

2. You didn’t vibe them as a professional

Like mentioned initially, first impressions can often be wrong about anybody you meet, and this goes for photographers and other hired vendors too. If you’re at your engagement session and the photographer is making inappropriate comments/jokes, starts weird conversation topics, or gives any other exceptionally off vibes, consider cancelling your contract.

Your photographer is going to spend hours with you on what should be a positively memorable day for you – so if the thought of having them there, nearby, in your zone, becomes unappealing – get out of the contract immediately.

Reason for cancelling: personal and/or technical/logistical
Chance of receiving retainer back: 10% – 50%

This one varies based on the behavior the photographer was exhibiting. If the behavior was purely unprofessional/inappropriate, there’s a better chance of receiving a refund, full or partial. If the behavior simply wasn’t your taste or simple felt off, there’s less of a chance you’ll receive any money back from your contract.

Bonus note: there’s a good chance that if things felt weird for you, they felt weird to the photographer too. Don’t fail to bring up awkwardness/unprofessionalism in the name of wanting to avoid hurting their feelings – knowing this information will both benefit you in the long run, and also help them grow as a photographer to be better to clients in the future.

3. They made you do things that felt/were uncomfortable

So many photographers have portfolios of “candid” looking images, and claim to be all about “real, authentic moments” – but unfortunately, it’s too common that these aren’t really candid images. These photographs are often forced, faked, and told to happen – which may result in a pretty photograph, but your memory of how it happened was sour.

The experience you have while taking your photographs is just as important – if not more important – than the actual results, so heavily consider what it was like to work with this person.

There is no good reason to be put into uncomfortable positions, to be told to do uncomfortable things, to have to do anything that doesn’t feel natural to you – especially when it comes to interacting with your significant other.

Reason for cancelling: personal and/or technical/logistical
Chance of receiving retainer back: 10% – 40%

This one also depends a lot on what went down – if it was the photographer themselves that made you uncomfortable (nonstop inappropriate remarks about body parts, appearance, or jokes) you have a higher chance of receiving more of your retainer back. If it was simply poses and an uncomfortable atmosphere, the chances of receiving a partial refund start to dwindle.

Bonus note: if the reason was uncomfortable poses, consider talking to your photographer first and request they don’t use similar posing at your wedding. You know what you love about your significant other, you know what feels right when it comes to standing, sitting, hanging out with them – you don’t have to listen to what a photographer tells you to do. You can do what feels best to you.

Also, use the most empowering word there is: no. If they request something of you that feels wrong or offhand, simply tell them no, and to move on to the next suggestion.

4. You didn’t like how you looked

Photographers use a wide range of cameras and lenses and other gear that definitely affects the way you look in photographs. Many photographers know what pieces of equipment to use to flatter people the most – but there are definitely some that don’t.

If you find that you look particularly bad in the photographs delivered to you, but you love the way you look in images from other photographers, consider backing out of your contract and finding someone else. The chance of your current photographer using the same gear at your wedding is pretty high, so the chances of receiving photographs that look better than the ones you just received is slim.

Reason for cancelling: personal
Chance of receiving retainer back: 0%

This one is hard because it’s a completely viable reason for wanting a different photographer – but how you looked is mostly not their doing. If you typically like photographs of yourself and have an average self-esteem of your appearance, you can bring this up with your photographer. But since we’re all our own worst critics, your reasons for not liking your photographs often have a more personal basis – and while that won’t get you your retainer refunded, it is an acceptable reason to find a different photographer anyway.

5. You can’t get a hold of them

So you hired a wedding photographer, and emailed them a couple dozen times to schedule/coordinate/check-in and haven’t heard back?

Get out, fast.

Photographers with poor communication skills are the ones most likely to dart after the wedding – and dart away with your photographs, undelivered to you. Even if your photographer went through some life events and needs to take a beat to breathe, they should be able to communicate that to you – and to make it right after the fact. If their inability to respond is making you nervous, you have every right to find a photographer that can properly take care of you as a client, and to meet your expectations (if not exceed them).

Reason for cancelling: technical/logistical
Chance of receiving retainer back: unknown

This one truly heavily depends on the language of your contract with them. If you have a clause about communication (or the lack thereof) reference this section to determine your eligibility for refunds.

Consider also: even if something isn’t explicitly referenced in your contract, there are often laws mandated by the state about reasonable expectations. Be sure to discuss your concerns with your photographer, and if that doesn’t make progress towards your desired outcome, always consult a lawyer in your state to determine your eligibility for legal intervention. It may sound like headache, and like an unnecessary expense, but depending on how much was spent on your retainer it may be a worthwhile pursuit.


Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN. 

I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.

This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.

Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.


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