If you’re any level of a photographer working with clients, you need to have a contract.
When photo jobs go awry, it’s often due to a lack of communication.
A contract protects not only you but also your client in the event of any unmet expectations.
Here are some inclusions you may want to consider.
Who is the agreement between?
First of all, you need to state clearly who the contract is between and identify each party. You can identify yourself as “the Company”, and your client as “the Client.” The photo shoot itself can be referred to as “the Event.”
Note that the agreement supersedes any prior agreements between the parties, and that the only way to add to the agreement is to do so in writing, and that this amendment must be signed by both parties.
In short, if anything changes between the signing of the agreement and shoot day, you’ll need another contract.
What are the reservations?
You should have a section on your contract about the Reservations.
This means you note the date the shoot is scheduled for, and your policies about rescheduling, postponement and cancellation.
Make sure the client is very clear on the consequences of any of these changes.
For example, many photographers require a 50% non-refundable deposit in case of cancellation, so they don’t miss out on potential work that could have been booked that day.
I recommend having a section that notes that you as the photographer/company have the right to terminate coverage and leave the location if you experience inappropriate, threatening, hostile or offensive behaviour from a person at the event that calls your safety into question. This may be a rare occurrence, but it’s worth putting into your contract so you can assert your rights in case you’re a victim in an unsafe situation.
This could be relevant to a female wedding photographer being harassed by drunken guests, for example.
Shooting time and additions
Note that shooting time commences at the scheduled start time and ends at the scheduled time, regardless of when the client shows up. If a client is very late, then the shoot goes to the agreed upon time and no later.
I also highly recommend that if you’re a commercial photographer, that you state clearly that the client or a representative from their company must attend the shoot to provide creative direction and approve the final images.
You’re not responsible for the final aesthetic if they are not there to provide feedback and approval.
Furthermore, reserve the right to cancel the shoot and retain the deposit if the client or their representative does not attend.
Seriously. This happens.
This is where you might note that there could be additional expenses incurred that may not be part of the original quote, such as parking, props on a fashion or product shoot, or groceries on a food shoot.
These kinds of expenses are usually TBD (to be determined) and not part of the initial estimate. This should be made clear up-front so you don’t end up taking a cut from your earnings to cover these things.
You are responsible for a lot on a shoot, but certain things are unforeseen and out of your control. Things such as obtrusive staff, lateness of the client and staff, the weather, schedule complications, incorrect addresses provided by the client, or restrictions of the chosen location.
Venue and Location Limits
Unless you’re shooting at your studio or a rental, the client is usually responsible for providing an appropriate place for the photographic work to take place.
If the venue is found to be limited in space or otherwise hinders you from carrying out your work in a safe manner (or one that doesn’t allow you to produce the desired result), reserve the right to request moving to another location or cancel the shoot without penalty.
Who is responsible for securing permits?
The second you put a tripod down in a public place, you can very likely get asked to move along by a police officer or other type of city official. This can be disastrous on a commercial shoot where the location has been scouted and is essential to the storyboard or narrative of the final images.
Permits can take some time to secure, so keep this in mind if this job falls on you.
Film & copyright
The photography you produce for a client still belongs to you, as the creator of those images. A lot of clients think the images belong to them because they are paying you money to produce them. They need to be educated on copyright.
In the commercial world, clients commission you to produce photos that align with their brand. They then pay you a separate fee to license those images for a specific use and time frame.
You should have a separate Usage Agreement in addition to your contract that outlines usage parameters.
Limit of liability
In the unlikely event that you are not able to perform to the guidelines laid out in the contract due to injury, illness, an “act of God,” or another event outside of your control, you should not be held responsible.
You should, however, make every effort to reschedule the shoot. If this isn’t possible, then ordinarily all payment received for the event should be returned.
If digital files are lost, stolen, or destroyed beyond your control, including but not limited to hard drive or equipment malfunction, your liability is to return all payments.
The limit liability for a partial loss of originals should be a prorated amount of exposures lost based on the percentages of the total number of originals.
Capture and delivery
You are not liable to deliver every image taken at an event or shoot.
The number of final files to be delivered is up to the photographers discretion or is based on an agreement made between the photographer and client before the signing of the contract.
In this section, you can make a note of when you’ll be delivering the files by and how they will be delivered, such as JPG or TIFF files.
Post-production and editing
The final post-production and editing styles, effects, and overall aesthetic of the image are at your discretion unless you’re working on a specific type of job where the editing will be done in-house, say by a magazine or ad agency.
Nothing is worse than working hard on editing and then having clients put crazy Instagram filters on your images. Prohibit any alteration to your photographs unless there is an agreement with the client as to what those alterations will be, like putting text on a photo.
If you’re asking for a deposit (and I hope you are), make sure to put that in your contract.
How you manage payment for the remainder is up to you. Many photographers allow thirty days for receipt, however, any late payment after that is subject to interest – usually 15-18%.
Also, note a policy around any NSF charges and if there are any consequences the client needs to be aware of in terms of not paying on time.
For example, you can state in your contract that non-payment after three months is subject to legal action.
At the end of the agreement, I suggest that you lay out the agreed upon pricing.
If you don’t have a separate usage agreement, you can include the usage terms here.
For my commercial work, I typically don’t give my clients a usage agreement until the images have been paid for in full and prohibit the use of my images until then.
I find this works well for me. Clients should not be using your images publicly unless they have paid for them, or it is a violation of your copyright.
I even state this term on my invoices and draw their attention to this in my email communication upon sending it.
Some clients can take a long time to pay you unless you draw specific boundaries around payment and the use of your images.
There should be an area where both you and the client can sign and date the contract.
It’s best if you use electronic signature software such as Hello Sign so that clients don’t have to spend their time physically downloading and scanning a signed contract back to you. Everyone is busy, right?
If you use a CRM software, it may already offer such a feature. For example, I use Dubsado, which is a CRM system for creatives. I can send clients emails and contracts directly from within the user interface.
I have all the other features of a client management system for around the same price I would have to pay for signature software alone.
Hopefully, this has given you some idea of what you can put in your contract.
Be sure that your contracts are dated and signed before you consider a job booked.
Go over them with the client and make sure the terms and conditions are understood. A lot of people don’t bother to read stuff before they sign it and you don’t want to deal with any surprises.
Please note that this post is for educational purposes only and doesn’t constitute legal advice, as I am not a lawyer and cannot advise in that capacity.
To make sure that any or your contract or written agreements are legally binding, and will cover you in an event of a discrepancy, please contact an attorney.