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How to Write a Good Photographer's Contract

If you're stepping into the world of professional photography, you're going to need to learn how to write a good photographer's contract first.

As a longtime photographer, I'll be the first to say that getting into the photography business is no easy feat. In fact, it might be more difficult now than ever before. Thanks to today's technology, essentially everyone has a high-quality camera right on their phones. Not to mention the fact that it's easier now than ever before to become a professional photographer without school.

Having said that, if you're working on your own accord, there are certain things you need to take care of when it comes to dealing with photography clients. Perhaps the biggest thing is your photography contract, which explicitly outlines your role, the client's role, but most importantly, your own rights as a freelance photographer. 

For those just starting out, this might sound a bit intimidating. However, drawing up your own contract is pretty straightforward. But for those still a bit leery, here are some tips on how to write a good photographer's contract. Trust me, it's not rocket science.

Full Contact Information

When it comes to hammering out the details, you must include your full contact information. Not only does this help build a rapport with clients, but it just facilitates the whole process altogether. It looks a lot more professional and you don't want to seem like a fly-by-night photographer. Or perhaps shoot-by-night?

Back down to business, both sides should have full access to each other's contact info, in case of any potential legal issues, breach of contract, etc. It also helps your client decipher whether or not you're operating as a sole proprietorship or part of a larger company. Either way, it's important to be transparent with your client, and this is the first step towards that.

Start Date

Indicating a start date also might seem like common sense, but you'd be surprised by the number of photography contracts that fail to hammer out a specific start date. Make sure you clarify the start date time, location, and shooting date in the contract so there is no additional confusion.

The last thing you need is a cheap client saying that you owe them more work just because there wasn't a clear start and end date defined on the contract. It's unlikely, but save yourself the headache. Make things abundantly clear, it'll make for a strong starting point in your career as a freelance photographer.

An Overview of Each Side's Role

Now getting into some of the more nitty gritty, you should attempt to outline a general overview of each party's role. This might include a summary of the aforementioned location, start time, and shooting date, as well as just a general summary of what each side will provide to the other.

This part doesn't have to be super intricate, it's not a senior thesis, but it should at least provide some context of the overall agreement going forward. This will, essentially, be a contract template that is easily readable upon first glance. For example, if you need any extras in a photoshoot you're hired to do, it should be clear whether or you or the client will be bringing additional warm bodies to be those extras.

Legal Documents and Contract Language

If any potential dispute arises between both parties and things get a bit hairy, outlining legal language and providing the necessary documents can help either side in the event of a spat. When it comes to providing photography services, the main concerns arise in rights of use. 

Typically, a photographer always maintains copyrights to their work, while allowing their client "use" of the photo. Make sure this is explicit in the contract, so your client understands how exactly the whole process works. After all, you want the option to use any particularly fantastic shots in your portfolio.

It might sound tedious, but legal contracts come in handy. It's a necessary evil.

Release Forms

This sort of goes hand in hand with the above section, but it's important enough to highlight. You may or may not already know, but in the photography business, you need property and model release forms to show your work to the public. If you plan on expanding your portfolio, or building a brand through social media, this part of the contract is integral.

Make sure you explicitly outline your intentions to use their photos after use, or you could find yourself in some unnecessary legal trouble.

And for the love of all things unholy, bring pens. You won't believe how many times I've gotten on site for a shoot, ended up with a bunch of people who needed to sign the release forms, and not a soul had a pen.

Forms of Liability

As a contractor, you are entitled to a certain set of rights. So in the case of something going wrong, you have to make it clear about what exactly you are responsible for in the contract. There are certain uncontrollable circumstances like the weather (better known as "acts of God"), illness, and injury. It's fine to utilize any of these potential "outs," but like anything else, make sure you explicitly mention what you're liable for before signing any deal.

Potential Edits

Unsurprisingly, some clients aren't always thrilled with the changes made to their photos after the shoot. In order to prevent any potential annoyances, make sure you make any post-production and editing very clear in the contract. After all, editing may or may not be part of the photography services you're rendering. Either way, lay it out for the client so they know.

Figuring out how to deal with terrible photography clients is never easy. There's plenty of them out there, so make sure you avoid any messy arguments over semantics. You know what they say—better safe than sorry. Plus, you also don't want your client to suddenly ask for many hours of PhotoShop editing that wasn't budgeted for.

Payment Schedule

This typically applies to an on-going partnership with a client, but it can also factor into a singular, large-scale project. Outlining how—and when—you want to get paid, should warrant a whole section on your contract. This alone can save you a huge headache in the future.

Plus, at the end of the day, getting paid is important. Having a legally binding payment schedule will help you avoid those "the check is in the mail" type of clients. When your client signs everything, your contracts become legal documents, and those troublesome photography clients are legally responsible to pay you. It's hard enough to have a photography business without constantly chasing after delinquent payments.

Cancellation Policies and Fees

Now, there is always a chance either side cancels on the other, so it is imperative to outline some clear-cut guidelines in doing so. You've got to protect your time—having a client cancel when you're already driving to the shoot that's an hour or more away wreaks havoc on your schedule.

For example, if there are any cancellation fees, let them know in the body of the text. If you don't outline specifically how your cancellation policy works, you could find yourself the victim of constant flaking, or even worse, a disgruntled customer who didn't realize that they would be charged for a last-minute cancellation.

Additional Fees

If you have any extra fees you plan on charging, make sure to include them in the contract. Your photography clients are sure to be livid if they find a "service fee" on their credit card statement without realizing they were even required to pay one. 

Again, transparency is the name of the game here, so when you're brainstorming how to write a good photographer's contract, make sure you keep that particular sentiment in mind.

It's a lot to digest, but as you take on bigger gigs, contracts are vital. It may sound stuffy in the creative world, but it's very important to protect yourself with a contract.

There is still a clear need for real photographers in the world. Whether you're a wedding photographer on Instagram, a freelancer specializing in senior portraits and steering clear of social media, or work on an event staff, people with a real knack for picture-taking will always be in demand.

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