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
- 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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: