A contract is an essential tool for professionals. While many people consider it as a business hassle, they can indeed be leveraged as a powerful marketing tool. Contracts are all about setting the right expectations and clearly outlining deliverables, terms of service and outlier situations to avoid any surprises. Properly drafted contracts improve client satisfaction and as a result, can even help you grow your business.
Photography Contracts - The Right Approach:
At first, having a contract to begin a business relationship may seem impersonal. The extra paperwork may feel like you are stymieing the personal connection you are trying to make with your clients. Many people look at contracts as something only useful if you have to go to court. They’re boring and who reads them, anyway?
But this is entirely the wrong way to look at a contract. Like so many things in life, contracts are all about the attitude you bring to the table. And contracts are a fantastic tool to help you communicate with your clients. They should be looked at as a helpful tool from day one. They lay out exactly what your clients should expect from you and what you expect from them in return. They are black and white, unlike the conversations we often have when clients approach us. Customers seldom ask all the right questions the first time, and business owners rarely say everything up front, whether due to a simple lack of time or just not thinking of the correct thing to say at the right time.
The primary purpose of a business contract is to communicate the terms of a deal. In order to communicate, there needs to be understanding between the client and the business owner. Clear and easy to understand wording is essential! Lay out all of the terms of the deal in one document, and cover any contingency you can think of.
Having a proper photography contract in place projects your brand as a professional service in the eyes of clients and potential clients and helps you grow your business. Having a nicely formatted document ready from the get-go communicates one message clearly - “I’m a professional, and I know what I’m doing.” And that's always a good thing to have.
Of course, contracts exist because people can and do get sued. Laws vary significantly from state-to-state and country-to-country. It is crucial that you have a local lawyer to review your agreement to make sure that it will hold up in court. There are many sites available where you can download a sample photography contract. Regardless, the chances that you can find photography contracts online that fit your needs and are an exact fit for your business is low. It is recommended to start with a general photography contract first. The only way to make absolutely sure you are covered is to have a lawyer familiar in contract law, and photography businesses, in particular, review your document and put together some photography contract examples for your business.
Why Using Photography Contracts Saves You Money
Contracts save you money and aggravation. By clearly explaining your expectations from your clients, everyone is on the same page. This prevents a lot of aggravation in the form of misunderstandings and dashed expectations.
But how can a contract save the photographer money? For one thing, contracts lay out precisely what the client is getting for their money. Anything additional, in the form of extra hours shooting or further editing, is clearly stated as an additional charge. If it’s just left unsaid, there’s only about a 50/50 chance you could get that money. You might wind up just doing it for free.
The second way contracts help you save money on legal fees. With a signed, enforceable contract under your belt, chances are better that you’re going to get paid. This reduces collection fees, and it keeps you from going to court to collect your money. Without the contract, customers may feel they have a better chance of taking advantage of the situation. A formal contract shows that you’re serious.
Having a lawyer draft contracts for you will cost many hundreds of dollars. But if you are a high volume photography business dealing with many different clients, the money you spend getting professional legal advice will pay for itself many times over.
Seven Critical Things to Include in Your Photography Contract:
Remember, only a local lawyer can effectively offer legal advice that applies to your business. These are the tips that are common through most examples of simple photography contract.
Legal Names and Contact Info
Most contracts begin by establishing who the agreement applies to. Include all of the details of your business, including phone number, email, and physical address. Make sure the client’s information is also filled out, including their full legal name, address, and other contact information. Another critical standard set in this section of the contract is the location from which the contract is enforceable, I.e. “This contract is written under the terms of the laws of the State of North Carolina.”
Dates and Times
Date and Times are established when and where you are expected to be shooting and for how long. This is to differentiate different shoots. Be sure to have a separate contract should the client want to use your services again in the future.
This section lays out the schedule of events as they are agreed to take place. For example, if you are shooting a wedding, the wedding photography contract may read, “Photographer agrees to cover the rehearsal dinner, ceremony, and reception including formal portraits.” It can be as straightforward or as elaborate as necessary for the occasion. It will be customized for every job.
Additionally, how much editing is included with the photographs? Will you retouch photos on request after you’d delivered them? Will you retouch all of the images or only ten of them? Is retouching an extra charge? Be sure to answer all of these questions now as part of the contract agreement. Additionally, many photographers don’t want their photographs edited after they’ve been delivered. Be sure to lay out the specifics in your contract to avoid later confusion and get a wedding photography contract template to find what all should be included.
What happens if the event is canceled? Are you going to return their deposit? What if you’re unable to make it? Are you required to supply or recommend a replacement photographer? Looking at other people’s event photography contract language may help you work out the details of some of the stickier parts. You may find a photography contract pdf on the internet having the details you need.
Be very clear as to when you expect payment. If there is a deposit, include the details of that as well. Write out any circumstances into which the deposit is refundable or not. Don’t forget to include the forms of payment you accept and the due dates for payments and change the details if you are using the photography contract template to create a new one.
While you might be well versed on copyright law, it’s doubtful that your clients are. Make sure to clearly state that you retain the ownership and copyright of all of your photos. Clearly, state that any reproductions of these photos must be authorized (licensed from) you and only you.
Set out the terms of any licensing agreement here very clearly. For the fees discussed here, are you allowing your clients to reprint the photos for their personal use? Will you allow them to share their digital files on social media? Are they allowed to sell the photographs to magazines or other publishers? Some of the answers may seem obvious to you, but they may not be so apparent to your clients. Make it clear. This is an area where many photography contracts online fall short.
You may also want to make it clear how you intend to use their photos. Are you going to put them online or show them in a printed portfolio? Will they be used to market your business? Will they grace your social media pages? Can you sell them as stock photography? If you did portrait shoots, then some clients may balk at some of these and not want you to use their photographs for privacy reasons. Make sure you agree in advance through the portrait photography contract.
Be sure to lay out what extra services the clients may want. Additional services might include overtime charges, additional editing, or digital copies. Making a clear list of what extras might cost is an easy way to accomplish two goals. First off, it makes it clear what they are getting in return for what they’ve already agreed to pay. Secondly, it lets them know what else you can do for them and how much it will cost. Again, this is a great way to use a simple photography contract to set your clients expectations in the right direction.
Other Documents to Consider
The below items might be considered as separate documents or included in the larger photography contract examples. Photographers usually need to have these documents available, however, since they don’t always combine with an agreement. You may want to keep two styles of your photography contract template. One with these items included and one without.
If you are going to use their photos for your business or your portfolio, make sure you have a model release. A model release is sometimes found in a separate document, but if you have an existing commercial photography contract, it is easy to add it on. A model release is signed by all identifiable people in your photo, and it gives you the legal right to use their likeness in your photographs. Don’t let the word “model” fool you, anyone in the photos needs a model release if you intend to use the picture commercially.
The same rule applies to identifiable private property. If you are shooting on a fancy yacht, the owner will need to say you can sell those photos. The same goes for a piece of land or house when shooting various locations. Many destination resorts are private property and are very sensitive to this. Make sure you have the permission of all involved parties and a proper real estate photography contract.
Limit of Liability
A limit of liability is designed to protect the photographer from damages arising from his or her actions. It’s essential to have liability insurance of some sort, but you’ll also need to have something written down on paper that exonerates you from liability should something happen during the shoot. This could include injuries or property damage. It also should cover the possibility of an event getting ruined. If you tumble into the cake and ruin a wedding ceremony, can the angry bride’s family sue? You bet they can. In this area, you want to be very careful when using a sample wedding photography contract. Many fall short and are not specific to the state laws in your location of the shooting.
You can find photography contracts online reasonably quickly, but to make sure they fit your business, you need to have a basic understanding of what goes into them. Remember that a contract for photography services are living documents that you can change as your business evolves. You can even make amendments to existing contracts as your relationships with your clients change. As always, seek professional legal advice from someone familiar with photography contracts for your area.