We want to trust all our clients, but sometimes misunderstandings happen and things can get messy. It’s moments like this that can make you glad to have terms set in writing, in your photography contract.
If you’re not using photography contracts with your clients yet, you’ll want to consider taking a bit of preventative action by creating a general photography contract for future photo shoots.
There are several reasons to have legal contracts in place for your clients. First, of course, is the misunderstandings that we just mentioned. Usually these are honest mistakes, but they can still cause headaches and profit loss.
Contracts also set the stage for a legitimate and professional business transaction. Your clients will approach the shoot more professionally. They’ll take the process more seriously if they see that there are clear terms and consequences communicated.
It also solidifies your image as a professional business owner if you have a set process for them to go through.
Finally, having contracts strengthens trust between you and the client. When all terms are clearly communicated from the beginning, there are no surprises and the client knows exactly what to expect!
So now that you know why you need contracts in your business, what should those documents say? It’s hard to know where to even begin when you don’t know how to make a photography contract.
There are plenty of free contract templates online. Be aware that any template found online will need some adjustment to be a good fit for your branding and needs.
These free contract templates can be a good starting point when you don’t yet have the funds to hire a lawyer to create your contracts for you. As soon as you’re able to invest in a lawyer’s time, though, I recommended that you do so.
Having a lawyer review your contracts will ensure that it’s a legally binding document that could defend you in court, should that day ever come (and we hope it doesn’t!).
As you modify a free template or create your own photography contract, here are 10 things you should include for any client:
1. Full contact information and names for client and your business
This may seem obvious, but having full name and contact information for both parties is crucial. We live in an age where people make arrangements via a text message or a private message on Instagram. If anything happens and you need to reach your client for legal purposes, a full name and address are a must.
Likewise, this can also help clarify if you sign the photography contract as a business entity versus an individual. This would apply for those of you who have structured your business as something other than a sole proprietorship, like an LLC or S-Corp.
2. Start date of contract and shoot date (if applicable)
Having a start date for the contract terms lets both parties know when terms and the timeline begin. If the contract is for a one-time job, showing the shoot date along with start time and location clarifies the terms and expectations.
3. Summary of what each side will deliver
This is the meat of the photography contract. It summarizes what each side will deliver. Here the financial total for the client is given, as well as what you’ll deliver in exchange for that payment.
This is also an ideal spot to summarize date, time, and location if the contract is for a one-time job.
If you’re doing a general terms photography contract with a client who you’ll be working with on an ongoing basis, then you can skip this section. Each shoot will be a bit different.
4. Cancellation policy
Here is where you let your client know how and when they can cancel, as well as what sort of fees are involved. Don’t forget to also mention what you’re responsible for, if anything, should your client cancel.
For example, do they make a deposit and then get part of that returned? Or is that actually a non-refundable retainer? Can a they use a retainer for a cancelled shoot to a future date to any extent?
Think of possible scenarios that can happen to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.
5. Payment schedule
Speaking of deposits and retainers, you’ll want to break down how and when you expect payment. In most cases, a retainer of some kind is standard upon booking. For large jobs, there may be several payments made at different points in the process.
Also, don’t forget to mention what happens if payments bounce or if they’re not made in a timely manner. This will save you from misunderstandings or delays.
6. Copyright ownership and transfer of use rights
This is a very important section because it could have huge impact in the future if a dispute arises.
Typically, you, as photographer and creator of the images, will want to retain copyright and grant your client use rights. This means you own the photo, but they have your permission to use it.
Use rights can be granted for a fixed amount of time, as is typical with commercial jobs, or for life. In most cases for personal photos like private events (wedding or boudoir photography, for example) or personal portraits, use rights are granted for life.
That’s because the photos aren’t being used to make money.
When you have a client wanting to use the photos for an ad campaign or a product label, that’s when you definitely want to look at getting more detailed with what rights are granted and for how long.
In the end, you as the artist should decide what you’re comfortable doing and giving in exchange for payment.
7. Property or model releases
Property and model releases are needed so that you can show the photos to the public. This is especially crucial in our culture driven by social media and online branding!
A model release is to show a person’s image, and you need a release for each person shown. A property release is to show private property, such as a home or pet (yes, pets are considered property in this case).
Some photographers choose to charge an additional fee if the client does not agree to sign a release.
Open communication is key, though. If you clearly communicate to your clients where you plan on using the images, it’ll help you build trust with them. And in most cases, I’ve found that clients are happy to oblige!
8. Liability Limitations
This section talks about what happens in case of damages or inability to perform a job due to things beyond your control. This can include things like injury, illness, Acts of God, or digital files getting lost.
This section will talk about what you agree to do in these cases, and what the client can expect to receive. Often this will involve returning a retainer to the client or finding a suitable photographer for last-minute replacement.
9. Post-production and editing
This circles back to the general topic of use rights. It goes a bit further to touch on how your images can be used and if any further edits can be applied to them.
Most photographers will want to have total control over the look of the final photos since it’s a direct reflection on your brand. Additional editing to photos delivered is often not permitted.
This section would also mention what type of edits are included in your scope of services.
For example, you may do colour balancing and basic edits. But major manipulations like head replacements or removing items in the background may be an additional fee.
10. Extra Fees
You should include a section or more about any possible extra fees that can be additional to the amount quoted or that go above and beyond your typical services.
This can be items such as travel fees, major manipulations in editing, permit fees for shoot locations, extended shoot time beyond agreed-upon hours, or late/bounced payments.
As you gain more experience with clients, you’ll run into situations that may convince you to add more to your legal contracts to prevent future issues. Each niche market has different needs, and each business has some unique needs also.
With the list as a guideline, though, your bases will be covered as you start your journey!
As with any legal documents, be sure to consult with a lawyer as soon as you’re able to make the investment. That way, you can be sure that the wording is legally binding should any problems arise.
Finally, as with any documents, don’t forget those signatures before you begin a project!
If you’re looking for more information on the business side of photography, check out our articles on making money out of real estate photography, and stock photography.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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