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Do Photographers Get Paid Before or After?

Do Photographers Get Paid Before or After?

The norm in professional photography contracts is to request a deposit upfront of around 50% of the total fee and the balance on final delivery, usually when providing edited photos, image files, or photo prints.

However, the best payment basis to include in a contract between photographer and client will also depend on the nature of the photography business. For example, commercial clients may require payment terms of between seven and thirty days, but a legally binding contract is essential to protect you from non-payment.

Let’s look at the average payment terms you should expect to implement for professional photography and the best options for new businesses from a cash flow perspective.

Payment Terms and Photography Agreements

There are multiple ways to structure your payment terms, but whichever options you choose should be outlined in full within your formal contract. Why do photographers have contracts, and why is the fees section important?

A valid contract should specify exactly what the client agrees to pay, for what services, and on what dates. Once the contract is signed, the client has committed to settling the stated value for your services, and you have recourse to take action against them should you deliver and they fail to pay.

While non-payments are rare, this safeguard means you won't lose out if you encounter a bad client and can protect your status as a reputable business. The contract should include:

  • The total payable, in the correct currency, noting whether the quoted value includes any variables, taxes, and any potential additions such as mileage expenses
  • Dates the fee must be paid, split into a deposit, final balance, or scheduled payments
  • Details of the client and photographer and instructions around the accepted payment methods, such as via bank transfer, cash, or check

Some photographers offer payment plans, particularly for larger projects such as wedding photography which may include an engagement shoot, dress rehearsal, family dinner, wedding breakfast, and the wedding day itself. In this case, the payment plan should also be set out within the contract before you undertake any work, with terms that indicate what will happen if the client does not pay or how much of their deposit they can reclaim, if any, should they cancel.

Choosing Your Payment Terms as a Professional Photographer

The best practice is to request payment upfront. As mentioned earlier, that tends to be 50% of the total price, although you can vary this as you wish. However, collecting at least a proportion of the cost as a down payment is advisable as this means you haven't made a loss by reserving dates in your schedule or allocating resources to a shoot if the client decides to make any changes.

Session Fees

Session fees differ from deposits because they are almost always non-refundable and cover the cost of the time slot, studio session, or hours allocated to a photography service. Photographers can require an advance session fee before they reserve the date or time within their schedule, ensuring they won't lose out by missing the opportunity to accept other bookings if the client cancels or chooses another date.

You can include the session fee in the requested upfront deposit. Still, you must state in your contract how much is potentially refundable and the deadline for cancellations, after which the session fee cannot be returned.

Payments on Delivery

Requesting the final amount due on delivery is common, although you should outline what delivery means. That could, for instance, be when you provide digital files of all the photographs taken, finish editing the client's photo gallery, or deliver their prints or photo books.

Another option is to exclude prints or other services from the cost of the photography service but include a schedule of fees so the client can pick and choose the types of printing or editing work they would like. In this payment structure, the service provided has already been paid for in full, and the client has discretion about which additional options they would like to order–normally payable in full when placing the order.

Kevin Gallagher
Kevin Gallagher

Kevin Gallagher is the CEO of The Contract Shop®, a contract template store for creative entrepreneurs, freelancers, coaches, and more. His background is in helping online businesses grow, having previously worked at Allbirds managing part of their operations. He is proud to report that his digital artist wife Mandy is a happy customer of The Contract Shop®, and his main motivation is to help as many people like her as possible with the tools that they need to confidently manage their businesses.

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