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Before you accept payment for another wedding, or book another commercial photography job, make sure you have a strong photography contract in place.
When you’re working with a “friend”, or it seems like a simple job, you may approach it with a handshake and a smile. Yet that may be the time you need a contract the most. While I’m not one to say Murphy’s Law is always in place, there still will be the times when your equipment fails, a mistake happens, or you simply don’t agree on what the final results should be.
Your contract can stop all of that. A contract puts all the details in writing, so in the event something happens, you’ll both have something in place that shows you exactly what was agreed upon from the very beginning.
Keep in mind that different cities, states, and countries have different rules in place. This is designed to give you a guideline to follow when creating a contract; however, check in with an attorney to make sure you are fully covered in the event something goes wrong.
With all of this in mind, lets take a look at the critical pieces of a great contract.
1. Start with the basics
A contract is an agreement between both parties. Therefore put all point of contact information from both parties on the contract. On your side, you’ll need your name and/or business name, the business address, and contact information such as email, phone number and web address. For the client, you’ll need much of the same info: name, address, contact information, etc.
Both parties will need space to sign the contract, and if the contract is more than one page, make sure you both initial every page to verify all of the contents.
2. Cover the event
You should also have a section devoted to the event itself, including the date, time and location of the shoot. Make sure you fully define the event, your coverage, and what the client will get for the money they pay.
While stating “unlimited coverage” may seem like a great idea as a sales strategy, keep in mind that some clients will take advantage of that unless you define it first. We learned this the hard way when a client wanted us to be there early in the morning as she was enjoying spa time, and wanted us to be there late in the evening, ready to capture the bride and groom as they headed off into the sunset in their limousine. Nobody can be at their best when they put in a 16 hour day. We used that story many times as we further defined “unlimited coverage” with our clients, and came up with a timeframe that was truly beneficial to both of us.
For a wedding or portrait, you may have a set and specific fee for the event itself. For a commercial shoot, you may have an hourly rate, or have a customized fee in place depending on the needs and the final results.
In any case, include the entire fee structure, including ala carte prices. It’s easy to copy/paste the details into the proper section of your contract as you are personalizing it, or simply attach a copy of the pricing sheet, and make sure you both initial it.
Don’t forget to include a statement as to how long your prices are good for. Prices, fees and expenses will go up over time. If a client can come back years from now, and still receive your old pricing structure, it may cut into your bottom line. Instead, add a simple phrase, “prices guaranteed 90 days after delivery of proofs, at which point client will pay current studio prices, which may be greater”, or something along those lines.
4. How will they pay?
Now that your client knows how much they will be paying, create a section that lists how payment will be made.
In this section, include how the money will exchange hands, in what format, and at what timeframe. With weddings, we required one third at the time of booking, one third 90 days before the event, and one third two weeks before the event. Those dates were listed in date format (May 10, 2011) within the contract itself. You can also list how you would like the payment – credit card, PayPal, cash, check – just to remind your client of acceptable payment formats.
You should also list what happens if payment is not made on time, or at all. If you want to use late fees, put in how much you will charge. If you won’t photograph the event without full payment in advance, make sure its spelled out.
5. What will the client receive?
To avoid confusion down the road, devote a section to describe what the client receives in exchange for compensation. What services will they get? What products will they receive?
Be as detailed as possible. Don’t use the word “album”; instead, state “you will receive an ABC album, of a certain quality, with XXX pages and XXX photographs”. If you’ll be handing over a DVD, include file size, and rights the client has to using the files. Clearly state the minimum number of photos that you will deliver, and any extra photographs they may receive as a final product, including sizes and finishes (i.e. mounted on canvas, framed, etc).
Also specify what happens if final products can’t be delivered due to client fault. For example, if you agree to begin the shoot at the salon for makeup and hair sessions, and the bride doesn’t show up at the specified time, or changes salons without letting you know, you can’t be held liable for missed opportunity.
Let the clients know how long it will be until they see results from their time working with you. Be specific, and let them know each step along the way.
For example, you may deliver “proofs” two weeks after the event, and final orders 60 days after final order has been made. Each date is specific, and should be listed separately in the contract itself.
Also include any stipulations that may prevent an order from being processed. If you demand payment in full before an album is created, list it in the contract so there will be no misunderstanding when it comes to final delivery.
7. The extras
Start out with a simple contract, and add along the way as you learn and grow.
You may decide you need an other photographer clause. We created one after we had one wedding that was impossible to photograph the formals because of dozens of “photographers” yelling “look here” and actually stepping in front of our camera to get the best shot.
You may need Internet agreements, giving you rights to showcase your work on you site, and through other photo sharing or photo ordering sites.
You may need model releases allowing you different rights to use a client’s images for different things. We started a greeting card and gift product line, and made sure we were covered to use our favorite images from each shoot.
Now it’s your turn
Contracts are an important part of your business. While the above is not a comprehensive list of everything you should include, it does provide you with some of the things important to a photographer. Use it to help you make your contract stronger for both you and your clients.