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Making Your First Photography Contract


Hi Caroline,
My name is Marta, I live in Australia and I am in the process of starting my own photography business. I have been a fan of your photography for a while, absolutely gorgeous images!
I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind possibly answering a few questions for a newbie? I would love to know about contracts and what I should involve in my contract as I have no idea.

I received a question this week from a photographer in Australia with a question I think all of us photographers were asking somebody at some point in our career.   What do I put in my wedding photography contract?  Well, I’m no lawyer, so please don’t take this as fact or official legal advice, but as I mentioned in my apple-picking post a few weeks ago, I am a person who tends to see how any given situation could go wrong and this is one of those rare cases where it comes in handy!  Here are just a few items to make sure you write in there to protect both you and your client.

1. What happens if your sick?

While nobody plans on being sick, things can happen that would prevent you from being with someone on their wedding day.  I work hard to keep myself healthy and safe, but still you never know!  In my contract, I make sure to let clients know that I make every effort to be a part of their day (and I’m sure to communicate in person that a cold or even a fever wouldn’t stop me from being there), but if I cannot be there due to hospitalization, grave illness, extreme weather or another act of God,  I will make reasonable efforts to find a replacement.  If I am unable to find a replacement,  all deposits will be returned.  This is why I’m so grateful that I’m part of such a large network of New York Photographers and I know one of them would come to my aid if the need arose.  (This is an argument for why to make friends with other wedding photographers!!  Another post I’ll probably do later…)

2. Let Client Know You Are Prepared

Give your clients peace of mind in the contract and let them know that you carry back up equipment in case something breaks or goes wrong (and then of course, actually bring it- even if you have to rent it!)  Technology is making so many advances and many of us have top of the line equipment, but that doesn’t mean something can’t go wrong so make sure you have at least two of everything that is vital (and many many CF cards and batteries).  Also, put in that you make reasonable efforts to protect their digital files.  I back mine up on a hard-drive and online with blackblaze in case of a flood or fire. Don’t forget to say how long you keep their files for!  I personally don’t guarantee keeping them past one year.  I do try to keep them permanently, but I don’t want the responsibility on me and therefore encourage clients in my contract to back up their own files once they receive them.

3. Copyright and Printing

This is the big one.   Make it clear who owns copyright after the digital files are delivered (if they are included) and if its you, what the client is and isn’t allowed to do with the photos.  For my part, I always retain copyright, but I put in my contract that I release the photos for their personal printing use and for use on Social Media with the condition that credit is given to me for the photos.   They need this to take the files to some printing labs and even sometimes a Walgreens won’t print if they see your copyright is on the file (which it should be- you can do this in Lightroom).  The print release in the contract allows the client to get prints made.   I make clear in the contract that copying, sharing, publishing or editing the photos in anyway without my permission is illegal.  If digital files aren’t included, mention how much they are to purchase in your contract, so its clear to clients what they are getting and what they aren’t so no one is upset later.

4. Cancellation/Timeliness Policy

Make it clear what your booking policy is.  Are deposits non-refundable in the case of a date change or cancellation for any reason?  If you aren’t dealing with a wedding, what about timeliness?  If the client is 15 or 30 or an hour late to their session,  do they get that time made up, or do they lose it?  All of these are important things to make clear in your contract.

5. Limit your Liability

Its important to limit your liability in the case of any of the negative situations befalling you like loss of files or illness that prevents you from being at the wedding.  I limit my liability to the return of all deposits made.

6. Meals/Travel/Other Costs

Make clear what costs are included in the contract and what items you expect the client to pay for later.  Will there be a travel invoice after the wedding?  What will it include?  Also, for wedding photographers, make sure to put it your contract that you expect one hot meal for you and all your shooters (if you do) in the case of a full day wedding.  I think its so important to get proper nutrition when you are working so hard on your feet for 8 hours or more on the wedding day, and thankfully my clients agree too!

7. Set Expectations

I make sure my clients know that while I make reasonable efforts to capture all the important moments of the day, that I can’t guarantee any particular moments captured.   I also recommend that if they have specific photos they really want, that they get a list to me at least one week before the wedding.  No one usually does this, but it’s important to have there because you put the responsibility of them communicating their wants and needs to you because hey, we aren’t mind readers right?  That said, I do take initiative on this too, and ask the bride and groom in our pre-wedding meeting (about two months or so before the big day) for a list of desired family photos with names and roles (ie Jennifer-Mother of the Bride) and anything else important to them that they want captured that I may not notice.

This doesn’t by any means cover everything, but it gives you some things to think about!  Definitely consult your lawyer on wording and anything that might be particular to you or your business!   As time goes on you will come across situations or have experiences that will make you think, “Hrm, I should probably make that more clear in my contract”…and in that way your contract develops and grows with you overtime.  I’m sure I forgot a million important details so if you have any other advice for Marta and photographers like her, please leave a comment on anything you think is vital for photography contracts!


<3 Caroline


Megan - December 7, 2012 - 8:33 pm

Hi!! Thanks for the great information today! Do you backup all if the Raw files on Backblaze also? Does it take a really long time? Thanks so much!

admin - December 8, 2012 - 1:29 am

Hey Megan! Yes I do back up with backblaze and onto a separate hard drive and yes it takes forever for me too! :-/

marta - December 21, 2012 - 3:12 am

Thanks Caroline for such excellent info, really appreciate it!

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