I'm going to be honest here, it is very hard for me to speak for other photographers because the way that photographers set up their booking system is so varied.
I've been on sites where you can book a package without ever talking to the photographer, you just click on the package you want, scroll through the pop up calendar for available dates et voila! The magic of automation.
I am impressed by that photographer's ability to dial in their package what with all the possible variables and their skills with setting up automated intake.
Other photographers will have no info at all. It's basically a "call me" scenario. I don't know about you, but that scares me off instantly. Clearly I'm not their consumer if they don't even want to tell me a round house figure. What am I going to be quoted? $500? $1000? $10000?!? I'm too embarrassed to inquire and find it is way over my price range.
So really, I can only speak to what I do and hopefully you can gain some understanding of one process and tentatively apply it to other photographers you are looking at (keeping in mind their system could be entirely different).
On my pricing page you will see a general portrait commission price of $200. This is the fee that any 1 hour session, be it newborn, engagement, grad, maternity, boudoir starts at. This fee covers the session time plus editing and communication. It will also cover a certain number of digital files (this is not the case for all photographers- some do not give any files away, some require that you pay for every file you get). I like to include some files because I know that these days folks like to have the images on their phones, or have consumer grade print work done on online sites like Shutterfly etc. That said, I don't give them all away. Each file represents a piece of visual art crafted by me. Additional files to what you get in your session package and printwork are extra and you can take a look at those via your online gallery after your session.
I have not automated my booking, though sometimes it is tempting, because I like to communicate with my clients one-on-one via email, text or messenger to get a more detailed picture of the type of session you are looking for. Hiring a photographer is like commissioning an artist, the artist needs to understand the elements you hope to see in the work before they can figure out the amount of time and expenses that will go into the project.
Another piece to know is that every type of session comes with its own rigors, so to ask to have a family photo shoot, but also a few newborn shots, or combining family photos with maternity, or even including the family pet introduces a whole other shooting scenario. Don't be surprised if the price goes up because of this. The more elements in play, the more the photographer has to do to achieve the shots.
For the most part, most sessions are very straight forward, no extras, so that fee you see on the pricing page is the exact amount you will be paying. The other great thing to know, is that because I really, really, really want to encourage you to print some of your favorite images, if you order a print package I will always apply $100 of your session fee to your print package order. So you're already starting ahead there!
To give you an idea, when you first inquire about my services I will ask for your email so that I can send you a basic intake questionnaire. Following your response I will be able to quote you a session price based on your parameters. If you like it, we move ahead to the nuts and bolts of a contract and reserving the date with a retainer fee. If it's not quite what you are looking for, you let me know and we try to tailor it to you more accurately. I always appreciate the interest and will not be insulted if, after inquiring, you are not ready to book. I get it, hiring a photographer is a big decision.
Once you agree to the type of package, your photographer should send you a contract. This could be a paper contract sent via mail, by email for you to print and send, or online. I am now set up to send contracts via ShootProof and you can digitally sign the contract, and I will as well (all hail technology!). You should also receive an invoice for the retainer or reservation fee (usually a percentage of the total session fee) which is non-refundable. Once that fee is paid, the date is set and will be given to no one else. This is one of the reasons why the fee is non-refundable: the photographer is potentially turning down other clients requesting this date and time. Each photographer should have a cancellation or re-schedule policy. I allow for one reschedule with one week notice.
As far as final payment goes, the photographer should specify. I always ask for final payment before or on the day of the shoot.
And, there you have it. It should be a fairly straight forward process. Enjoy the search for the best photographer for you. The images that are created will last a life-time!