A photography contract is an important document all photographers should have in place between them and their clients before any type of photo shoot, yet there are many photographers out there who don’t seem to bother.
In some respects I can see why, I mean hear the term “contract” and many people instantly think of a document drawn up by a specialist legal team at great expenses, and when you need a unique contract for each potential client it is easy to think the legal costs are going to be so high the photo shoot won’t be profitable.
The thing is, photography contracts don’t have to be expensive and you can draw up your own. You don’t need to pay a lawyer extortionate amounts of money to draw up photography contracts to make a legally binding document. At the end of the day a contract is simply an agreement between parties which is documented and signed by all concerned, so that everyone knows what is expected of them and what their responsibilities are, what is going on and what will happen if the agreement is not adhered to.
If you get a lawyer to draw up a contract it will be a large and complex document full of legal jargon, and legal terms those not in the law profession don’t understand. These contracts are over the top, and only serve the purposes for one person, i.e. the lawyer. Lawyers charge a lot of money to draw up the contract, and if something goes wrong they charge more money to explain what the contract means, and then charges even more money to sort out any dispute. A bit of win win for the lawyer isn’t it?
I digress, as I previously mentioned you can draw up your own photography contract for each client and whilst this sounds a daunting process it really isn’t that difficult, providing you add in the required clauses as follows:-
The details of all parties privy to the contract
The first thing to include in any photography contract is the details of the parties signing the contract, and this includes names, addresses and contact details of everyone, and I mean everyone. If the client consists of a group of people, let’s say a father, mother and two sons for arguments sake all of these people should be individually named and all of them should sign the contract in their own right. Simply having the father or the mother sign on behalf of the group is risky, and something you should avoid. Get everyone to sign the contract and there can be no cries of “I didn’t sign up to that” at a later date.
Location details of the shoot (location, date, time, etc)
The photography contract should always include the location details of the shoot. It doesn’t matter if the shoot is in your studio, at the client’s home or at a third party premises the location details should always be noted. In addition to this the time and the date should be included as well.
I have been late for a shoot in the past because I ended up going to the client’s home (as agreed) when the client changed the venue at the last minute, failed to let me know and then argued that I was told about the venue during the pre-shoot meeting. I have only ever been caught out once as that experience taught me to include all the details about the location, as well as the time and date.
If the client signs up to it they have no cause for complaint if you turn up at the agreed location at the agreed time on the agreed day, and neither can they give the old “where have you been. You’re late. I am going to reduce your payment as a result” line. I have had this a few times in the past, but I soon shut the client up once I waved the signed photography contract under their nose.
The type of services you are providing
The services you are providing needs to be explicitly stated in the contract to avoid any confusion during the shoot.
In the past I have had many clients say to me “you said you were going to both such and such services and such and such services, and that both are included in the price” and basically try to get more out of me than was agreed. I have to admit that I was caught out by this when I first started out, but I soon learned and now it is included in the photography contract I can wave it under the client’s nose and point out what I was appointed to do.
Noting the exact services you are being paid to undertake is one of the most important clauses to stop client’s taking the mick and exploiting you, so make sure you include this clause.
The costing structure of the shoot, i.e. your fees
Money is something that causes the most arguments in life, and it is no different in the world of commercial photography. If a client is going to argue over anything it is over money and the how much you are charging for the service you are providing.
To prevent any disagreements, arguments and issues over money after the shoot you should stat your pricing structure in the photography contract. Pricing structure obviously varies from photographer to photographer, but in your contract you should make your costs transparent and obvious, so that a simpleton can understand them.
Your pricing structure should include your hourly rate, how much you charge for each type and size of print you supply, how much you charge for travelling to and from venues and how much you provide for supplying extras, such as props and the like.
Who ultimately owns the photos
Ultimately, it is the photographer who owns the photos, and this is a clause I always include. In the past I have had some clients claim the photos as their own and then try and make money with them offering them for sale to various magazines and publications, as well as many stock sites. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed and I am not having other people profiting from my work, therefore I retain ultimate ownership of the photos, even though the client has a copy.
I keep the RAW file and EXIF data of every photo I give to clients so if there is ever any dispute over the ownership of the photos I not only have a signed contract stating the fact (as agreed with the client) but also have other evidence.
What the photos can be used for
What the photos can be used for is an important clause to protect both parties, and the contract should specifically state what the client can use the photos for and also what you, as the photographer, can use the photos for.
This is often a contentious clause and one you have to discuss with the client. In my experience the client will often disagree with the clause and want some uses added, and some removed too. You need to be flexible with this clause, negotiate with the client and reach a compromise all parties are happy with.
If you dig your heels in and refuse to negotiate over what the photos can be used for the chances are you won’t be awarded the shoot, so you do need to keep a bit of an open mind and be prepared to give up a few things.
Other uses for the photos
This goes hand in hand with the point above and is something you should discuss and agree with the client. Since I like to make money with my camera I often want to use real life examples of my work in my physical portfolio, in my online portfolio and on other marketing material. Consequently I often ask the client if I can use some of the photos for this purpose, a request that some say no to and others say yes to.
In addition, I like to get the most out of my photos and if I think some of them are good enough to sell on one (or more) of the various stock sites I submit to, or one of the various print on demand stores I use I will ask the client if I can use a selection of the photos for this purpose.
Once again, this discussion is often up for negotiation before a compromise is reached and the photography contract is updated accordingly.
Limitation of liability
Limitation of liability is a very important clause and one all photography contracts should have. This clause limits the financial loss to you, as the photographer, should the sticky stuff hit the fan.
When you draw up photography contracts you don’t need to start from scratch for each shoot. The most efficient way is to set up a “master” photography contract containing all clauses that you can then remove and edit for each client accordingly. Setting up the master photography contract is going to take some time and work, I can’t lie and say that it won’t, but it is time well spent and it will protect you in the future – this I can guarantee because you will always arrange to do a shoot for a client who seems alright at the start and will then argue and threaten you with all sorts of nasties post shoot. It has happened to me a few times in the past, it has happened to all of my photographer friends, and it will happen to you sooner or later.
You really should put photography contracts in place, and if you don’t this ii an issue you should address to protect yourself, your work and your clients too.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.