Photographer contracts are a fundamental requirement for any professional photographer, ensuring you protect your rights, income, and time when accepting any shoots or bookings, particularly if you haven't worked with a client before.
What forms should a photographer have? If you have a comprehensive and legally valid contract, this will cover the vast majority of the terms and conditions linked to your work, although you may also find branded letterheads, invoices, and receipt slips beneficial.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the primary reasons every photographer should have a contract and how to ensure your documents are clear, unambiguous, and professional.
The first and perhaps most impactful reason a contract matters is that there is zero room for confusion or misunderstandings since you have set out, in writing, what you will deliver, the cost of your services, and how the client is expected to pay.
Do photographers get paid before or after a shoot? Most photographers require an upfront payment or deposit to guarantee the slot and then receive the balance payment on the day or when delivering the completed photos. When a client signs the contract, they should be given plenty of time to read through the terms before they accept, which means they cannot make assumptions or miscalculate the total payable.
A common example relates to usage rights, where a client might believe they have 100% ownership rights to the photos taken of them or during their booking. This is often not the case, and photographers can charge a separate fee for full usage ownership or impose restrictions on the ways their professional work can be used, especially in a commercial setting.
Provided your contract has been prepared in accordance with established regulations, it serves as a safeguard to protect you financially and in terms of professional liability should something go wrong. While that may be unlikely, you can use your contract as evidence of the services and fees agreed if the client wants to cancel, doesn’t pay the fee owing, or implies that the photography services they have paid for were not delivered.
An example could apply to a wedding, where the client has paid a photographer to attend on the day and throughout the evening. Photographers usually limit the number of edited images included in the price–say 500 high-resolution fully edited shots delivered via a digital file.
If the client does not have a contract and has forgotten or not realized the price includes a limited number of photos, they could file a claim or a complaint knowing that their photographer took several hundred photos on the day.
A contract must set out precisely what is and is not included in the fee paid, and can also set out optional extra charges if the client would like the entire photo gallery or complete usage and distribution rights.
Although photographers produce contracts for their own protection, this can also be beneficial for clients, who have the reassurance that they are hiring a respected professional with a formal contractual process in place. Should a client not receive the services they have paid for, they also have the contract to fall back on, ensuring the photographer fosters a positive experience without client concerns about parting with their money for a service they are not sure they will receive.
Some clients or venues may also require their photographers to have a formal contract or provide evidence of liability insurance as a general risk mitigation policy. Contracts are, therefore, a non-negotiable requirement for any photographer, as they reduce the financial risk of every party, offer complete clarity from the outset, and prevent the potential for misunderstandings.
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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