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How to Protect Yourself if Your Photography Client Cancels

How to protect yourself if your photography client cancels

Working as a professional photographer entails being a key part of that 'special day' for many clients. Anything from a wedding to a corporate anniversary soirée is on the menu for paid shutterbugs. 

Because you’ve sacrificed your weekend to be their photographer, it makes sense that your finances need to be protected in the event your client cancels. The key to any photography contract is in the wording. 

Contract Clauses to Keep You in the Clear

It’s critical that the language in your contract is clear and unambiguous. Vague statements like 'reasonable notice' should be avoided, as one person may find twenty-for hours' notice reasonable, while another person might think fourteen days is fine.

These ambiguities typically mean things end up in court, where lawyer fees will likely outweigh the money you would have made from the job in the first place. Here are some must-have clauses that will help keep things clear:

Deposits and Retainers

The simplest difference between a deposit and a retainer is that a deposit is a payment made now, to be applied toward work billed in the future. A deposit can be refundable or non-refundable. 

A retainer is an upfront, non-refundable fee that many photographers charge. Some may apply it towards future billing, but many do not. In a way, you can think of a retainer as a 'reservation fee,' because you are blocking out your calendar for certain days and are likely to turn down potential business that would conflict with those days. 

Some photographers forgo retainer fees in an effort to attract clients who may balk at paying an upfront, non-refundable fee. That being said, if you have a strong reputation and a full calendar, a retainer is absolutely appropriate.

Payment and Cancellation Terms

Your contract should clearly state how much money is due on specific days as the date of the event approaches. Typically, full payment is due before services are rendered, and there are stipulations to refunding that money, should the client cancel.

Using our example of reasonable notice above, your contract should state something similar to the following:

  • If the client cancels the event thirty days or more before the event, they shall receive a full refund.
  • Clients canceling after giving notice of fifteen to twenty-nine days of notice shall receive a 50% refund.
  • Cancellations with less than fifteen days notice will receive no refund.

Reschedules, Postponements, and Changes

Obviously, not all clients are out to cancel at the last minute and ruin your payday. Things happen that are often outside of the client's control. This usually leads to a reschedule, postponement, or change of venue. Make sure the customer understands how and when they can make these adjustments to the agreed-upon plan. 

Because dates and other variables may change, the scope of the work may change as well. For example, if you’ve gone from an outdoor daytime event to an indoor nighttime event, you may need additional lighting, which will change the costs of the contract. Be sure to include language similar to, 'Costs may be revised in the event of a venue change or additional equipment needs.'

Keeping It Readable

There’s no need to make all of your contract clauses length– just focus on keeping them clear. For more complex shoots, additional language may be required, but you don’t need to include a stipulation for every conceivable scenario. 

At the end of the day, many photographers keep separate contracts depending on the service they are offering. Wedding contracts are different from the product photography contracts you need for your business, and what a commercial photography contract template covers is an entirely different beast. Having ready-made contracts is handy and helps you get your customer's signature faster, which means a quicker payday!

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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