A Guide to Creating an Effective Photography Contract

It is said that we live in a very litigious society. This means that, on any given day, just about anyone can be sued for anything. It may not be fair, but that's just the way it is.

As a photographer, you should take steps to minimize your legal exposure. This will prevent Murphy's law – if anything can go wrong, it will – from taking over your professional life. After all, you'd rather spend your work days running your business, not in small claims court, right?

As you already know, a contract is a vital document in order to protect your business. However, you may not know what to include in a photography contract. Let's take a look at some of the key elements that should be included.

Photography Contract Basics

The first page should be an overview of the transaction. Details about you and your clients should be included, such as:

  •  Client Names
  • Address
  • Contact Information
  • Event date

Also, include a space for you and the client to sign. If the photography contract is more than 1 page, have a space to initial on each other page. This makes it clear that each page was read and part of the initial agreement.

What will the client receive and when?

Specify what the client will receive. Include information such as:

  • Date and amount of time you'll offer your service
  • Number of photos (can estimate)
  • Size and quality of photos (if including digital files, what size)
  • Finishing (framed, on canvas, leather album etc.)
  • Whether or not the client will receive a DVD, etc. and the rights that he or she has with it
  • Include a description of what will happen if you can't perform your duties due to unforeseen circumstances, client error or other once a decade scenarios.

Also, inform the client as to when he or she will receive the finished photos. If there are multiple steps in this process, inform the client as to when each will take place. For example, you can say that proofs will be delivered 3 weeks after the event and the final photos will be delivered 6 weeks after the event.

Pricing

You'll want to cover payment structure in your contract. Let clients know exactly when payments are due, and what happens if a payment is missed. If you intend to charge by the hour for overtime, fill in your hourly rate. If you intend to charge a set fee, add that fee – and so on.

Also, it is a good idea to include a stipulation that the  product fees are good for a certain amount of time. For example, you can say that the listed fees for albums and products are good for 180 days, after which time new fees may be charged to reflect an updated fee structure. Thus, if the client finally requests their album a few years from now, you won't be held to an outdated pricing structure.

How and when will you be paid?

Once you have outlined the fees, also note how the payment should be rendered. You should obtain a retainer at the time of booking – say, 1/3 of the price. You may wish to make this non-refundable after a certain point to avoid having the client cancel at the last minute without anything to show for it.

Also, note any other payments and when they are due. For example, you could say that another 1/3 of the payment is due 60 days before the event and the remainder is due a week before the event.

Add information as to what will happen if the client fails to pay on time. Include any late fees and whether or not you have the right to cancel your service if the client fails to pay on time. Doing so will eliminate the need to hassle the client after the wedding – when the client is broke.

Finally, let the client know what payment methods that you accept. You may accept checks, PayPal, credit cards and/or various other methods of payment. Just be sure that the client knows how to pay so that there is no confusion.

Cancellation policy

Include information on what will happen if the client cancels. This should include:

  • How much money is non-refundable
  • When you must receive notice of cancellation by
  • That cancellation must be in writing
  • What happens if the client cancels past the cancellation date (forfeiture of money, etc.)

Model release

Wedding photos that you take can be used in your portfolio and for advertising. This will work great for attracting new clients, but you must obtain permission from your previous clients to do so.

Include a section in the contract that grants permission for you to use the photos for such purposes. Some clients may not want their photos plastered all over your webpage or some other form of advertisement and it could become a legal issue. Play it safe by getting their permission in writing.

*Note that this article is intended for informational purposes, only. For legal advice regarding a contract, please consult an attorney.

Conclusion

This information serves as an outline of some of the key information that you should include in your photographer contract. As you gain more experience, your contract will improve. For now, begin with the basics and your contract will improve as your business grows! If you haven't already, read this article on photography contract retainers.

If you are putting together a contract on your own, check out these photography contract templates:

photographer contract template

 


Facebook comments:

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara G. April 10, 2012 at 6:57 am

Great information, thank you! Do you know of any great samples or inexpensive ways to purchase already created contracts?

Reply

Hannah May 30, 2013 at 9:10 am

Check out Docracy.com, it’s is a website that has free legal documents created by the business that use them.

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Bogdan April 5, 2012 at 3:59 am

I find having spaces for both the bride and groom to be to sign is essential. Learned this the hard way when one groom contested his (by then) wife’s signature. No wedding agreement gets signed by us anymore unless both bride and groom are present.

We also have a paragraph dealing with guest photography which is permitted and encouraged as long as it does not interfere with our job.

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Lara White April 5, 2012 at 9:03 am

we have both sign as well, but on occasion (like once a year) the groom is out of town or just doesn’t sign. In those cases, we always circle back with him on the model release and editorial submissions in case he has an issue with it.

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lindsay manning November 20, 2015 at 4:49 pm

What do you say in your contract about others interfering with your job? for e.g.. bride says she wants family to be there taking photos of the getting ready in the morning but just becomes very distracting?

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Geoff White January 2, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Have your lawyer add language to the effect that you can’t be responsible for wedding guests interfering with your ability to do your job, and that their interference could impact the quality of photography that you provide. There are two things to consider here – one is legal protection, but the other is educational, ie the bride needs to understand that having all her family and friends taking lots of photos can negatively impact the quality of your work, especially during things like group photos where every person is looking at a different camera. Frankly I used to handle this on a case by case basis, ie when it became a problem at a wedding I’d take the bride/groom aside (or wedding planner) and explain that the guests are negatively impacting our ability to do our job, and could they respectfully request the guests to stop taking photos during family photos. During journalistic parts of the day it’s not nearly as big a problem dealing with guest photographers.

One other quick tip, don’t generally allow family and friends to tag along for bride & groom portraits or the bride & groom “first look” if you stage that before a ceremony. It not only is distracting if they are taking photos, but having other people present impacts the ability of the couple to be with each other / focus on each other.

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Ben Gebo April 4, 2012 at 9:00 am

Awesome resource, this is great. I thought I covered everything in my contracts, but the cancellation policy is something I need to work on. Should be a no-brainer, but I know other photographers who never used a kill/cancelation fee. Getting it writing, even in an e-mail, is very important.

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Lara White April 4, 2012 at 10:07 pm

absolutely. I must tell you, after 10 years shooting weddings, that cancellation clause is very important to have. We will go three years without a single cancellation, and then get 2 the same year. People will cancel for all kinds of reasons-they break up, lose their job, a parent gets sick or sometimes they just change their minds. As a person, I totally sympathize and understand that things come up. But as a business, you have to consider your financial situation and protect yourself. Many clients kind of expect a contract to only go one way (holding the date for them), and it simply can’t work that way. You do turn away other business to hold that date for them, whether they use it or not.

When someone cancels 2 months out, it may not be possible to re-book that date. So you often end up losing income, even if you keep a retainer fee or payments collected. For example, we had 2 weddings last year reschedule to this year, both kind of last minute changes. We were flexible and rescheduled for them without any additional fees, however,hat represents a HUGE financial loss for us as the clients picked 2 prime summer dates this year, which we would have certainly booked otherwise. Which is fine, both clients are great, and so of course we are going to do our best to work with them. Another time, years ago, we had a couple reschedule a wedding to the next year (so same scenario-lost income in booking a second prime date) and then the following year they broke up, and thought they should receive a full refund. But on our side, we lost out on selling that second date, as well as expected album sales and so forth.

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