Looking around it appears that many photographers don’t bother with photography contracts before taking on a photo shoot, and I have to admit that I am absolutely stunned. Before I take on any type of photography work for a client, either paid or unpaid, I insist on a photography contract, and if the client refuses I don’t take any photos. It’s as simple as that.
I have been told before that I am a bit over zealous with regards to photography contracts especially when it is a “favour”, i.e. freebie shoot, but I am of the opinion there should always be a signed contract in place to protect me, as the photographer, any people I am photographing (where the shoot is people of course) and the intellectual rights of owners (where I am shooting products and the like). With a contract in place everyone is fully aware of everyone’s responsibilities, and I prefer to work like that.
Most people think the contract is just about money and a way of making sure the client pays the quoted price for the agreed photography services. Okay, the photography contract is a way of ensuring the photographer gets paid for the hard work and time involved, and also that the client gets the type of photos they wanted and agreed with the photographer, but the photography contract should cover much more than this.
The photography contract should cover other important things such as who owns the rights to the photos, what the photos can be used for and where the photos can be distributed. In my experience the easiest way to include the clauses in the contract is to specifically state what and how the photos can be used as well as distributed. Then, anything outside what is specifically stated is a breach of the contract.
Some clients are apprehensive about signing contracts, and quite rightly so, and during the introductory meeting I always explain that I only work with a contract in place, the contract will only include things agreed by both parties and that the contract is used to protect both of us and ensure that the client gets the service they expect.
Many clients are worried about their photos being posted on the internet for all and sundry to see, and I totally get this, and whilst think this behaviour is morally and un-ethically wrong I know there are photographers out there that do it, and a contract will help put your clients’ mind at ease and give them comfort their images won’t be available for the entire world to view, unless this is the intention of course. In my experience it is this confirmation of not posting the photos on the internet (without the client’s permission) that is the clincher and encourages the client to sign the contract.
Many people seem to think that you need a lawyer or a legal specialist to draw up a contract, which is obviously going to be costly, however this is not the case. Anyone can draw up a contract and as long as it is signed by all parties it is a legally binding document and one of the parties can seek recourse if the contract is not adhered to and there is actually some kind of loss involved.
Contracts drafted by lawyers are long winded, over the top and difficult to read documents using legal terms and jargon the average layman doesn’t understand, and photography contracts don’t need to be like this. In the real world you will find that short contracts written in plain English (or whatever your native language is) that is easy to read and understand is more than sufficient. Besides, if you present a potential client with a long contract full of legal jargon the client doesn’t understand the likelihood of you getting the client to sign up is almost non-existent and you won’t get the job. My photography contracts are short, concise and cover everything they need to. I also tailor the contract to each client to make sure that everything is covered.
I, like many other photographers, like to use some photos from paid shoots for other commercial and non-commercial uses. Some of the photos I may want to put in photography portfolio so I can show potential clients what I can do, some of the photos I may want to submit to specific stock sites to earn a bit of residual income from them, some of the photos I may want to submit to one (if not all) of the various print on demand stores I use to generate some residual income, and some of the photos I may want to put on my website for marketing purposes.
Whenever I meet up with potential clients I explain that I may want to use the photos for other things and ask if they are comfortable with this or not. The response usually depends on the type of photos I am being asked to take, and the precise use of the photo. If the client agrees to me using the photos I specifically include this in the photography contract. Again, this may seem a bit over the top but I have been caught out in the past where a paying client gave me verbal permission to use a photo on a stock site, which I duly did. After a few months I started getting threatening letters from the client claiming misuse of the photo and also a proportion of the sales generated from selling copies of the photo! Needless to say the photo was pulled. Fortunately, the photo hadn’t sold on anything therefore I didn’t have to give the client any money. That experience taught me to be sceptical and not trust people unless they are prepared to put it in writing, or at least sign up to it via the photography contract.
Photography contracts are crucial and I can’t overstate how important they are. Before taking on a shoot you need to agree specifics, get this in writing and then get all parties to sign it.
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.
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