Photographers often worry about being overly formal in their business. When you own a business that’s rooted in passion and art, firm policies and contracts can feel too stiff.
But remember that you are a legitimate, professional business owner. And you absolutely need a contract to protect your art and your business.
In an ideal world, every interaction and transaction would go smoothly, but we’ve all heard —or even lived— the photography horror stories. Contracts offer protection and peace of mind, for both you and your clients. (Don't forget to save the infographic we made as a cheatsheet for your photography contract must-haves!)
If you think you don’t need a contract for your photography business, think again. You must have a customizable contract that you use for every shoot, even if it’s for a friend or long-term client.
Contracts provide clarity, credibility, protection, and the ultimate form of conflict resolution.
Clarity and Credibility
Contracts will not scare your clients off. Contracts protect both parties, and they tell your clients exactly what to expect, so there are no surprises. Clear expectations build trust and strengthen relationships.
Additionally, presenting your clients with a contract sets the stage for a legitimate, professional business transaction. When you treat your photography as what it is —a business— it increases your credibility and earns the respect of your clients.
Having a set process in place helps every transaction go smoothly, leading to repeat business and referrals.
One of the most important steps you can take to protect your business is having a contract with every client.
We all want to see the best in people and trust our clients, but misunderstandings happen. And when misunderstandings occur in a business transaction, things can get messy.
If you get into an unpleasant situation with a client, your contract protects your business reputation and your assets. Having this protection in place will bring you peace of mind as you run your business.
Are you conflict averse? Do you struggle to set firm boundaries and tell people “no?” Then you’ll love having a contract for your photography business!
If disagreements arise, let your contract be the “bad guy.” Simply say, “Per the contract, this is what we agreed to.”
The contract for your photography business should include:
Every contract should include your client’s full name and address, so you can reach them for legal purposes if necessary.
If your business is a sole proprietorship, you will also include your name and address. If you’re an LLC, you’ll include your business name and address to clarify that you’re signing the contract as a business entity, not an individual.
Scope and Schedule
This is the bulk of your contract, where you’ll outline when your services start and end, what you’ll be shooting, where you’ll be shooting, and a clear timeline.
You can also include information about specific shots your client wants. Being detailed is helpful because it makes you less likely to run into a misunderstanding or conflict.
Similarly, you should get into the specifics of exactly what you will deliver after the shoot. How many images will you deliver, and who selects these images?
Include the image format and, if applicable, the size and number of prints or additional products like photo albums. If the client later has complaints about any of these factors, you’ll be able to point to the signed contract to confirm you delivered exactly what was promised.
This section makes it clear that you retain the copyright to all images. You own your work, including all images delivered to your client.
Although you retain the copyright, your client is granted usage rights. These rights vary depending on the client.
For personal photos, for instance, use rights are for life. However, you should stipulate that these photos can’t be used for commercial purposes.
For commercial clients, outline how they can and cannot use your photos, and how long they have use rights.
In this section, you can also stipulate that your name or business name must be included on all images posted to social media. And if you plan to use the images for advertising or in your portfolio, you should say so in your contract too.
To use photos in your marketing, you need model and/or property releases. Releases can be separate documents, but it’s often easier to include releases in the body of your photography contract.
You should always obtain releases, even if you don’t expect to use the images for commercial purposes. If you take an exceptional photo, you’ll want to have signed releases ready to go.
Post-Production and Editing
Outline the type of post-production work and editing you will provide. It’s also a good idea to limit your clients’ ability to edit your photos. Your work is the heart of your brand, and you don’t want clients to heavily edit and share your images.
Some photographers provide a list of additional services and associated fees as well. This clarifies which services are not included in your basic fee, and it may encourage your client to upgrade to additional services.
Fees and Payment Terms
Break down the fees for the services you’ll provide, so there will be no surprises when the client receives your invoice.
Include information about deposits, retainers, interim payments, and final payments. When is each payment due? How are payments made? What happens in case of NSF payments or bounced checks? Will you charge an additional fee? How much?
Limitation of Liability
The liability limitation section of a contract protects you from unexpected situations, like illness or a natural disaster. Will you provide a replacement photographer? Will you partially or fully refund your client?
By anticipating possible issues and presenting a solution, you steer clear of unpleasant client disputes.
Likewise, the cancellation clause explains how and when clients may cancel, and any fees they must pay as a result. If you require a deposit, will clients get a portion of it refunded? Or do you require a non-refundable retainer? Do you allow clients to apply the retainer for a canceled shoot to a future date?
You should also outline the process and requirements that apply in the event that you must cancel the contract.
Unless you have a legal background, don’t try to write your own contracts. There are nuances to writing a legally binding contract that provides adequate protection.
If the worst-case scenario happens and you find yourself in a legal dispute, you’ll want a contract that holds water. It’s recommended to have a lawyer write or review your contract template to ensure it fully protects you and is legally binding. The best places to look for legal contracts for photographers are TheLawTog®. photography contracts or Legal Paige photography contracts.
No matter how formal or dull contracts may seem, you must have a contract for your photography business. And you must have a signed contract for every client.
You’ll have better peace of mind and protection, an easy way to navigate disputes, and a clear process for conducting business. Plus, clients will appreciate that you provide a contract and respect you as a professional. After all, photography contracts protect both parties and ensure a smooth experience.
Contracts aren’t a skippable formality- they’re an essential part of owning a photography business. Embrace your identity as a business-owning boss, and take the necessary steps to protect your business with contracts.
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