There’s a saying here in America, “It’s not a matter of IF you’ll be sued, it’s WHEN.”
Yes, America more than any other place on earth is sue crazy. And while we could talk for hours on the good and bad of living in a sue crazed country, the bottom line is if you are going to be in business, you have to cover yourself as fully as possible. (And not just in America, around the world too.)
While you always hope you’ll never face the inside of a courtroom over your photography, preparing for it before it happens will leave you in a better position in case the unthinkable happens.
While I’m not a lawyer, and only a lawyer can fully ensure your contract is sound and will prevent you within your business, there are some ways to move forward to give you protection before you book your very next client.
These are the elements your contract should have.
A great contract is going to list the basics up front. Be sure you have:
- Your client name(s)
- Contact information
- Event dates and locations
- Your business name
- Contact information
Details make it easy to ensure who the two parties are and how you both can be contracted in any situation.
- Date of the shoot
- How much time you’ll provide
- Fee charged
- How many photos they can expect
- Size and quality of photos
- Finished products (frames, albums, matted images, etc)
- Rights to use images – copyright information
You should also list a timeline for each step of the process. Things like “proofs will be delivered three weeks after the event” will always give your clients a reference point as they are working through the process.
We’re all human. Which means you are always at risk of things being out of your control, yet impacting the day of the shoot.
While we can’t plan for everything, there are some things we can. For instance, what if you are too sick to shoot the event? Will you have a backup in place?
Or what if there is client error? What if a bride says to be at her event at 2pm, and she really meant 12pm?
Or what about the quality of the final images and albums? Do you guarantee them five years after the event took place?
Or what if you and your clients don’t see eye to eye? What is the legal process? How will you handle disagreements?
The more you think about now, the more refined the process will be if and when you do have a problem in the future.
Pricing and Payment
When you list out your pricing in your contract, list your fees, when payments are due, how they should be paid, and what the consequences are for non-payment. Again, the more detail the better.
When we printed out contracts for our clients, we left a space in our “pricing” section so we could copy/paste the package they chose right into the contract itself. Not only was the final fee listed, it would also have what was include in their chosen package.
Then create an area where you can list out when payment is due. For instance, if you require one-third when signing, one-third two months before the event, and one-third a week before the event, have space to include the actual date as well.
You can also tell people what’s refundable, and what’s not. Your time is worth money. As you get closer to an event, your chances of filling the time decreases. Non-refundable fees protect you from that, and also from having clients be a “no show” when you’ve dedicated the time. Keep in mind that non-refundable fees have to be written in such a way to make them legal – be sure your lawyer approves of your language.
While most payments and fees occur before the event, you’ll also have payments after. If a client chooses to purchase more images after they see your work, how much will be required to start the process? Will you take payments, or is it all due upfront?
And finally, what payment methods to you take? In today’s world, the more payment options the better. Credit cards, Paypal, checks, financing, gift certificates – the more options, the greater chance you have of extra sales.
If you book a photography session in the future, there will always be times where the session is cancelled. Include:
- The process for cancellation
- How much of deposits, if any, will be refunded
- When you must receive notification of cancellation by
- What happens if the client cancels after the cancellation deadline
- How cancellation must be received (i.e. in writing)
Today we live in a “shoot and post” society. We can whip out our cameras and have an image to our Facebook account in a matter of seconds.
Yet for some clients, that could be bad for business. For instance, we photographed one wedding with “famous” people who preferred not to share their lives with people online. We also photographed one family who had an adopted child and the adoption was anything but smooth. They didn’t want the biological parents having access to images of their child.
Everyone has their own issues, their own agendas. By including a model release in your contract, you can talk about issues before you move forward with using images for your own benefit.
While the images are yours and you should have rights to using them for your business – advertising, marketing, awards – you should also be sensitive to any problems your clients may have by using the images. Most will not have an issue. Be sensitive to the ones that do.
Policies on Other Photographers
If you’ve photographed for a while now, I’m sure you’ve experienced the frustration of spending the time setting up your clients, only to have someone “jump” in and take the image ahead of you. You do the work. You have the creative eye. You should reap the rewards of your talents in posing, choosing locations, setup, etc.
While its definitely not uncommon at weddings, photographers are seeing the “jump in” photographer just about everywhere, including their own studios. One friend was actually complaining the other day about a mother that jumped in after they had spent the time setting up a child on their backgrounds in their studio to grab the image on her iPhone. Yes, it happens everywhere.
The only way to stop it is to spell it out in your contract. What are you comfortable with? What will you allow? And when do other shooters become detrimental to your professionalism?
Making It Legal
The most important part of any contract is the signature. Create space at the end of your contract for you and all parties involved to sign and date the contract. Also, if you have more than one page, make sure you create a space on every page for each party to initial. This ensures that all parties have read and agree to every page of the contract, and that a page hasn’t “slipped” in.
As a photographer, make sure your client signs the contract before you. If you are mailing it to your client, include one copy, highlighting all areas for signatures and initials. When they mail it back with original signatures, sign it yourself, copy it, and mail a copy back to them. If you sign it first and mail it to them, you may be legally bound to the contract, even if they never return it – they have your signature.