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Business Tips

Should You Offer Unlimited Wedding Coverage? {Quitting Your Day Job}

By Chris Nachtwey on October 15th 2014

This is a un-sugarcoated look into what life is really like when you walk away from the steady paycheck and enter the world of being self employed. I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, and anything else that comes my way as I navigate the waters of being a full-time photographer. I also hope to interview other full-time photographers to share their experiences with you as well. To see the rest of the articles in the series, click here.

Should You Offer Unlimited Wedding Coverage?

I know by writing this article, I’m going to open Pandora’s box. There will be some of you who totally agree that unlimited wedding coverage is a great idea, and there will some of you who think it’s a horrible idea. What I will say is this, at the end of the day, we as wedding photographers need to adapt to the market, we need to listen to what clients and potential clients are saying to us. My opinion has and always will be adapt or die (not literally).

The Game Is Changing…

The wedding photography industry, from my viewpoint, is changing; the generation that is getting married (I’m part of that generation) is used to getting what they want. They rarely heard no growing up, and want a lot from their jobs, and service providers. And they are willing to pay for it. In my heart, I truly believe the days of telling a potential client that they can book a collection that is 5 hours, 8 hours, and 10 hours are over. This generation wants you for the entire day, and you know what, I agree with them!

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A Lesson Learned

In the recent months, what I learned booking for 2015 was that I was going about pricing all wrong for my target couple (25-35 years old and working professionals). I was offering collections that had different hours associated with the price; as you went up on price, I would provide more coverage on the wedding day for my couples, and man, did I lose a lot of jobs because of that. I can’t tell you how many couples that I met with for 2015 tell me, “You know, Chris, I really wish you offered unlimited coverage for the day.” Like a stubborn ox I said, “No, I have set hours and that’s what I offer.” As I lost one couple after another, limiting myself to set hours, or collections, I followed my own advice and said, “Open your eyes Chris, things are changing, client after client wants unlimited coverage.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized I would want unlimited coverage if I were getting married as well.

Why You Should Consider Offering Unlimited Coverage

Less Stress

This is the number one reason I have ditched set hours, and I’m not talking about stress for my couples, I’m talking about stress for me. As I went through the last two seasons photographing weddings, I was scheduled for coverage from 5 hours to 8 hours, and I was always stressing out about being able to cover everything in the time I was paid for. I pride myself in keeping everything on schedule during a wedding day, but let’s get real for a second, weddings usually always run behind. There is nothing worse than being near the end of your coverage time and the cake has yet to be cut, or dinner is nowhere near done and parent dances still need to be captured. I hate having to go up to the DJ or event coordinator and say, “I’m scheduled till 9pm, can we move things along please?” HATE IT!

[REWIND: QUITTING YOUR DAY JOB: STOP OVERTHINKING THE CREATIVE PROCESS]

I view wedding days as a story, with different moments throughout that day that make the story unique to each couple. I shoot for the album, meaning that I’m trying to tell a story with my images, and when an album is made, I tell that story in the sequence that it happened. By having set hours, I was always stressing out about capturing the whole story for my clients. Yes, I can capture a wedding in six hours, but it’s hard to capture the day, my way, in that time frame. Heck, even eight hours is not enough sometimes. By offering unlimited coverage, I’ve allowed myself to stop worrying about not having enough time to capture the day, and just go with the flow. It’s less stress for me, allowing me to be even more creative, and one less thing my couples need to worry about.

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Added Value To Your Wedding Collections

I’m a big believer in adding value to your wedding collections. This is where you can change your collections around to still keep set hours if you would like, but also have a collection that includes unlimited hours. Personally, all my collections include unlimited coverage, and as the collection prices go up, I add value items such as a second photographer, and albums.

RELATED: 3 PRICING STRATEGIES THAT SELL

If you want to have set hours, but still appeal to the unlimited coverage client, you could offer two collections that are based on hours of coverage and two that include unlimited coverage and other high value items. This would allow you to book couples who don’t want you at the wedding all day, and also appeal to the couples who want unlimited coverage. My bet is most couples will go up to the unlimited coverage options, because if you sell it right, they will see the value of having unlimited coverage. This is all up to you, but I think having unlimited coverage is an extremely appealing value item to your clients.

It Shows Couples You’re Invested In Them

Offering unlimited coverage shows potential clients that you are committed to them for the day. You’re not going to be rushing out of the reception because your six hours are up. You’re not shooting another wedding in the morning that same day (I have no clue how you could shoot two weddings in one day, but I’ve heard of it happening). In the end, it shows my couples that I’m completely invested in them the day of their wedding, and all I’m focused on is capturing their day to the fullest without compromise.

Wouldn’t You Want Unlimited Coverage?

When you sit back and think about it for a minute, wouldn’t you want unlimited wedding photography coverage on your own wedding day? I know I would, I would hate to pay a large sum of money to only have my wedding photographer capturing part of the day, when I want the whole story captured. It might be the fact that I fall into the current generation that is getting married, but everyone I know who has gotten married recently or is getting married (I’m meeting with those couples regularly) wished they could have paid for unlimited coverage or loved having unlimited coverage.

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Conclusion

As I said at the beginning of this article, I know I opened up Pandora’s box with suggesting that you should consider offering unlimited coverage. You are free to build your wedding pricing as you see fit, but if nothing else, I suggest have unlimited coverage as an option. Make sure you price the option accordingly for yourself. I’m not going to suggest prices, every photographer is different and you need to know your numbers and know what you need to charge to run your business. What I charge is not right for anyone but myself. All I will say is this, wouldn’t you hate to lose a great client because you don’t even offer the option of unlimited coverage? I sure know I missed the boat on some awesome clients because I didn’t even offer the option.

Till next time, keep shooting, building your business, and embrace the hustle!

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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    • John McCosh

      Good point Mark,

      A church is not going to stop half way through your service because you got their late because your Chauffer got stuck in traffic and ran out of time so told you to get out and walk to the Church. Or your cake is only half baked because it took longer than the cake maker anticipated.

      We who offer unlimited coverage cover the whole wedding day not just part off it and are booked and paid accordingly for our time. We are not offering something for nothing but rather maximizing return on each wedding. I appreciate were a minority group and that also helps us be in a niece market and charge a premium.

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  2. Elle Jorden

    Everybody here has many great points for and against the unlimited coverage – thank you for that! Especially those that shoot ceremonies that covers days or longer hours than normal. I like the idea of at least offering a few time-based packages, because I’ve had client inquiries that only want coverage for a small, intimate ceremony, they’re eloping, it is a casual family affair in the backyard. Some of them just want the formalities done then have you out of their face and gone so you’re not “bugging them” on their wedding day. A time limit in these cases can be a relief for them.

    I just wanted to echo that making sure you have food and drink in your contract is a MUST! I second shoot and I am sensitive to my blood sugar levels, so I’m grateful that clients don’t mind me attacking the buffet during breaks so I don’t keel over when they’re cutting the cake.

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    • John McCosh

      I offer different packages based on images only, Images plus small Album and the Images pus large album and Canvas print. All my packages come with full day coverage no matter if it’s 6 hours or 12 hours.

      The reason for this is that most Saturday’s during the wedding season I am booked. If I were to offer a lower priced package for fewer hours chances are I would miss out on a full price booking. I do accept bookings for shorter days only in the month before the wedding and offer a lower rate for these, but don’t advertise the fact.

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  3. Michael Hussey

    I’m not sure I follow the gist of part of your argument. How is it stressful for you to adhere to a 9pm cutoff for yourself? Are you so OCD that you refused to allow yourself to stay late? or are you referring to overbooking yourself and you had to be somewhere else to take a late wedding?

    Personally, I’ve never understood why weddings were booked by hours of coverage. I guess it was the only way for a photographer to have different price levels. But it is silly to have an hour or two difference mean that much. In the work of a photographer for a wedding, an hour or two isn’t going to make that much of a difference. All it really means is you’re missing out on some good reception shots and you have a few less pics to edit.
    I wish it was a tradition to pay photographers based on a percentage of the total cost for the wedding. That would solve a lot of this.

    PS. Yes, make sure it is in your contract that you get fed what the guests get fed!

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  4. Matthew Saville

    I believe in a hybrid business model, somewhere in between the two extremes.

    I initially quote my couples based on how much time they’re going to need, and if they want me to start at 6 AM and/or shoot till 2 AM, that’s definitely going to cost them more than the couple who just wants me to show up 45 mins before the ceremony and stay just 10 mins into open dancing.

    HOWEVER, once I’ve given the couple a price based on the coverage they probably need, I NEVER bother them with “overage” charges if things run late, or if I decide to show up early in order to get all the shots I need.

    This way, I get well-paid for the size of the wedding, yet I also have the freedom to do whatever I deem necessary to get the shots I want, without having to nickel-and-dime them for more $$$ when they send over the final itinerary a couple days before the event, let alone when the wedding reception is already in full swing…

    Personally, I feel like if you’re not such good friends with the clients that you don’t mind chilling and hanging out till the very end of the gig, then you’re doing something wrong. If you feel compelled to GTFO the split second your coverage time is up, then you must not have really connected with your couple, and their family.

    Usually, after the last “thing” has been shot, (bouquet toss, cake cutting, whatever) …I usually shoot a little bit more and then just sit down somewhere and crack open my laptop and start browsing the photos. Often times it gives the parents / grandparents something to see, and it’s a huge repertoire-builder for everybody there. They remember you that much more, and they’re (hopefully!) blown away by the ~50 best photos you pull up using a proprietary browser such as Nikon View NX that allows you to see your in-camera settings. (Or just a nice punchy import default setting from the SLR Lounge Preset System, plus a few B&W presets)

    Of course, this business model only works for some, and mainly just those who are running a one-man show. Your 2nd shooter or assistant needs to get home at a decent hour, they can’t be expected to just hangout for an extra 1-2 hours, or show up 90 mins early. But personally, if you’re looking to get your name remembered, being present for as much of the day as possible is a very good idea.

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  5. Kevin Nguyen

    All day coverage of unlimited hours is not easy market. I’ve shot a couple Vietnamese weddings of 18 hours long and it was not fun. I was on my feet at 6am when the Bride getting ready (1st Tea Ceremony at 10am)….. the party stop dancing at midnight. Unlimited hours is not going to work for me.
    On my top collection, instead of call it “All day coverage”, I call it “Full coverage (up to 14 hours)”

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  6. Jason Switzer

    I don’t offer unlimited coverage because I have yet to shoot a wedding where coverage beyond 10 hours is even necessary. After a while, dance shots look the same. Clients have set schedules anyways on the day of their wedding and they book me for the time they want me around. On top of that, carrying s ton of gear for more than 10 hours is just too physically demanding for me. At some point in time, my shoulders and neck feel like they’ve been destroyed (and I use a black rapid strap to take the load off of my neck). It’s not worth it to me to put myself in a position where my health is compromised for a few more photos of some guests getting down in the dance floor. My model is to tell the clients how much coverage they will likely need based off of the shots that they want and their day-of schedule. That’s worked for me so far. If couples start saying no because they want unlimited photos, maybe I’ll rethink my pricing strategy. Until then, it’s package deals based on time for me. I think a lot of selling a couple in your services involves your own personality and frankly, the quality of your work. If you can’t sell them based off of those two criteria, they might not be a good fit anyway.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Better not shoot a Hindu or Vietnamese wedding ceremony, then! 10 hrs is my bare minimum package, lol, and 12-16+ hour days are not uncommon. Oh, and for 3-5 days back to back.

      So yeah, “unlimited” coverage can get a little crazy. It really depends on what your clientele is, though. If 99% of your clients only ever need exactly 10 hrs of coverage, then stick with that!

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  7. Ryan Sands

    I’m in the camp of NOT offering unlimited coverage. I have full respect for my career and I’m very fortunate enough to make a very decent living at this. I put food on the table for my family with my photography. My time and talent is valuable and my clients should and do see it that way. It is our job as professionals to set limits on client expectations. Unlimited coverage is nothing more than an “eat all you want buffet” mentality which devalues both your time and your talent. It’s another way photographers are hurting themselves and furthering the “race to the bottom”. It’s simply an unsustainable business model. You are literally taking away something you could be charging money for. Has anyone ever heard the saying, time is money? Unlimited coverage also does nothing more than attract the “buffet” clients who want everything for nothing. These are the type of clients I DO NOT want to attract.

    Hiding behind the veil of “differentiating yourself” from other photographers is not an excuse for offering a service at rock bottom pricing by throwing in unlimited hours of coverage. It’s akin to Microsoft’s strategy of selling a cheap laptop or tablet stuffed to the gills with cheap programs, unlimited online storage space and unlimited cloud services just to get you to buy a $299 piece of crappy technology. Instead we should all be trying to move up the market just like what Apple does. Offer a premium product at premium prices and people will purchase it. If that analogy doesn’t sink in, try to think of it as if you were a car company.

    As photographers we should instead be focusing on our craft, learning to market ourselves, taking meetings with venues, going to meet & greets or any number of other things we all could be doing to further our careers.

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    • John McCosh

      I hear what your saying Ryan,

      If your charging bottom dollar and offering unlimited coverage then you are correct. But if your charging top dollar and offering unlimited coverage then aren’t you adding value to your product.

      I also find spending time with the girls before the ceremony while they having their hair and makeup done breaks the ice and makes them much more relaxed later in the day for the formals. At the reception I go around all the tables and capture shots of the couples, Capture the speeches and the cake cutting. During this time I capture candid moments of the couple and their guests celebrating. None of it is hard work. Then I cover the first dance and maybe the groom with his mum and Bride with her dad. Then I get a few shots of their guests dancing then I’m finished for the night in enough time to get home download my images and back them up, recharge my batteries so that I am ready if I have another wedding the following day.

      As I have already mentioned I see this as adding value to my product not watering it down and charge accordingly.

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    • Ryan Sands

      John,

      Even if you’re charging top dollar pricing you’re still illustrating to the client that your time isn’t worth anything by providing them unlimited coverage. Unlimited coverage literally means, “Hey my time isn’t worth anything to me or you, so you can have as much of it as you want. It doesn’t cost me anything to provide you with many, many more hours of coverage.” When it reality your time is valuable. It not only costs you the time on their wedding day, but the time editing/retouching the additional images, storing the additional images on your hard drives, the additional wear/tear on your gear and the wear/tear on your body from being at their wedding for 12+ hours. Unlimited coverage does not make any financial sense whatsoever. Especially when we should and can easily charge our clients for our time, which is what every other business on earth does.

      Not only does it completely devalue our time, it completely devalues what we do for a living. If our time isn’t worth anything, what is the couple paying for? Are they paying for our talent? Or are they simply paying for some person to show up and click a shutter button? Are they paying for the numerous products, albums and prints we are suppose to throw in with our coverage & packages? Or are they paying for the high resolution images on a USB stick? Many photographers already have a hard enough time trying to show couples the value of the services we provide. Why would we want to devalue ourselves even further?

      Let’s suppose everyone throws in unlimited coverage with all of their packages. What would want to make a couple pay for package A instead of package B? Where is the added value? Is it in the products we sell? Because that translates to the couple..”All I’m paying for is product. This photographer is the same price no matter what package I buy from him.”

      Also, unlimited coverage doesn’t give us the ability to magically capture more special moments throughout the day. Getting ready, first dances, toasts and any number of key moments are all easily captured in the allotted time the couple has paid for.

      And again I’m going to talk about Apple and discounting. I’m touching on this subject because it too is another way photographers think they are providing “value” to the couple when in reality it is actually the opposite. Our society has been programed to expect a discount on a product we buy. Why? Because sales are literally plastered EVERYWHERE we look. They are all around us. 10% off for your email, 20% off for your Facebook like, 40% because we feel like it! Sooner or later couples just expect a discount. Because they are programed to expect one. That is why they ask. But let’s take a look at companies that NEVER offer a discount. Take Apple for instance. Their products are literally the same price EVERYWHERE you go. Why is that? Because Apple has designed it that way. They know their product is premium and they know people will pay for a premium product. They produce a beautiful piece of tech and by always charging a premium for said product, that product is perceived as valuable. If Apple ALWAYS had sales thrown in left and right people would begin to think that Apple products weren’t worth the price they charge. They would simply wait for a big sale and purchase the product. Discounting literally hurts your brand the moment you start doing it. It’s not a short term hit, its a long term hit to the perceived value of your product and services.

      I’m all about adding value to our services but not at the expense of devaluing what we do. I want us all to succeed and be able to do what we love for a living and provide for our families. Produce better work, improve our websites, work on our customer service skills, work on our people skills, work on our personalities…all of these things add value. Unlimited coverage and discounts do not.

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    • John McCosh

      Ryan,

      I appreciate your point and your obviously very passionate about your argument. By adding value to the product I mean by offering unlimited coverage which is only a marketing ploy in reality it is from 8am – 9am.

      I am able to charge double what my opposition charges for 6 hours coverage as is the norm in my area.

      Now with there being only so many weekends in a year and most people not wanting to get married in winter so my average of 25 weddings per year are pretty much at the top end of what I can expect. So by offering unlimited coverage and charging accordingly has allowed me to double my income that would have otherwise been impossible. That is adding value to the product and dollars in my pocket.

      I have been doing this for 5 years and I am already booked out for early 2016 and my business is going from strength to strength so I fail to see how this is an unsustainable business model. While the opposition only want to work a few hours a week my business will continue to flourish.

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    • John McCosh

      Sorry meant 8am – 9pm in the above comment.

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  8. Bardt Wauters

    I’m just in the game of wedding photography but I always do full day coverages.
    I tend to start at 8 in the morning and shoot through the day until 4 at night.
    Yes it’s hard sometimes but I think it’s fun. Plus I see it as my primary marketing tool.
    Since I consider myself more as a journalist than I classic ‘pose for me’ photographer, I don’t really connect with the guests during the day. They see me work, and maybe they think of me as a professional.
    But in the evening, when everyone starts dancing, and the party is on fire I feel I can really connect with everyone. I have a talk with them, I bit of laughter, and suddenly they think of me as ‘that cool social guy, that happens to be a photographer’.
    I like it a lot. It’s also the foundation of my wedding photography business. I always think: couples spend at least a year for having the right flowers, the right location, the perfect cake and I don’t even want to know how long it would take to decide which friends you’re going to invite, and which friends you don’t.
    So if the room is filled with the people you love, why would you hire a strange photographer. You’re the person who stays with them the WHOLE day, so hire a friend. And friends stay.

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  9. John McCosh

    I have always offered unlimited hours in all my packages. At least that is how I market them. I normally turn up the same time as the hairdresser and makeup artist and leave within an hour of the first dance. If my couples want me to extend this at either end I will still do it for free if the wedding is close enough that I don’t need accommodation at either end. I am always fed and watered and pace myself for the long day that can be 13+ hours.

    Allowing unlimited time has differentiated me from the opposition and almost all my clients comment on how refreshing it is to not have to worry about trying to organise everything within the time frame of the photographer.

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  10. Tyler Friesen

    I think unlimited as a premium package is fine but to what end? I have some clients that want to get me shooting at 7am and want me until 1am! Thats an insanely hard day and most clients understand that. I offer up to 10 hours of coverage and explain that there is a little bit of flexibility in the hours if something crucial is going on. I never leave an event without speaking to the people that hired me first. I am part of that same “entitled” generation and I know that if I’d like to hire a photographer to shoot a 16 hour wedding I will be charged a hefty premium, because that is an entire extra day worth of shooting. I understand I would need to be charged double for this service. (think about not being able to take another wedding the following day, thats lost revenue). The generation of self entitlement needs to be told no more often, or pay a fair price for their/my high expectations. All that said, in my experience building a real relationship with your clients cuts right through all of that and there is no need to offer unlimited hours. I don’t actually feel strongly about this at all but I would just suggest any photographer that wants to cheapen the market to gain a few clients without charging that premium will find out it is not a sustainable business model. If you do, you will quit or go out of business quickly because you’ll burn out or not be able to take on clients the next day. Good article to start a debate! haha

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  11. Christopher

    I enjoyed this read even though I disagree with the idea of unlimited coverage. You mention 6 hours a couple of times in the article and maybe that was the issue. It’s very very hard to tell a full story in 6 hours. Even 8 is tough. So I think minimums of 10 hours are absolutely necessary.

    The problem with unlimited is this … when you’re at a buffet and you only eat a few bites, you feel like you’ve wasted money. Same thing goes when you get into Disneyland late in the afternoon or if you have a Netflix subscription and only watched 1 movie that month. Yes, our services are not the same as these others, but a piece of that mentality will always apply. It’s just human nature to want to max out your value. So with this model, you are going to find yourself there “just in case” bright and early even if they’re not even close to being photo ready and all the way through the end of the reception, even if it ends at 2AM.

    Furthermore, not all weddings are equal. Vietnamese weddings are typically 12 to 16 hours because of the two tea ceremonies in the morning, the hour long catholic ceremony, the table toasts and the other events. Indian events are also pretty long. On the other hand, more traditional weddings without a first look might only be 8 hours. So you can either shoot 8 hours or 16 hours and you’re basically being paid the same. And how does that affect your margins? There’s almost no second shooter in the world outside of family that will be okay with the same pay for an 8 hour day as a 16 hour day.

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  12. Ipek Amdahl

    One of the things I’m wondering about an unlimited coverage is food and rest for the photographer. A wedding day can go on for a very long time. Do you add clauses for multiple meals and rest times in your contract?

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    • Matthew Saville

      YES. That is always a very good idea to put in your contract…

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    • James Blake

      Definitely opened a Pandora’s box. (touchy touchy) Recently I shot a 13 hour wedding, me and my team was taken care of for food for lunch and dinner. This is needed when you are shooting anything over 10 hours. You are on your feet the whole time and you need the energy to make it through out the day. It is a tough wedding day when you shoot over 10 hours. I am part of your same generation Chris but you have to really stand your ground that the unlimited has a cap of a certain amount of time.

      You aren’t loosing customers because you are not available to shoot 24hours you are loosing them because you have not educated them on what you are capable of shooting in a 10 hour day. If you did an unlimited coverage package for an Indian couple they will expect you to be there for 3-6 days depending on how they want to celebrate. That is Unlimited photography right there and you are now under pricing yourself.

      I have a couple who are having 4 ceremonies next month. It is no way you can really give them an Unlimited package for each event because of making $20k for separating time you do an unlimited the couple is looking for something around $10k for an unlimited amount of time. That is only $2.5k for the whole day of each event of 10 hours or more. I am sure your prices are not that low for a 10 hour wedding now with 2 photographers.

      The article was definitely a good read, but I had to post to disagree with the article.

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