Every time you do business as a professional photographer, you need to have a photography contract in place. This is true whether you set up your own photography studio or work on location. With a contract, you explicitly define work and payment expectations with every client. You should make sure every photography contract includes the core elements that protect both you and your clients.
5 Details a Photography Contract Should Include
- Start and End Times
- Pricing and Payment Terms
- Deliverables and Due Dates
- Image Rights
- Protections for Yourself and Your Clients
As you move forward in professional photography, you may find you need different contracts for various purposes. For example, a wedding photography contract will have different terms than a portrait photography contract. You may need model releases or equipment contracts down the road as well.
Creating a clear photography contract ensures that you and your clients are on the same page. A contract is a written document that details how you will engage with each other and how to resolve any potential conflicts that may arise.
A quick search will reveal many photography contract templates online. While a template is a good starting point, you’ll need to customize to meet your needs. Free contract templates often provide sample language that you can include in your document, along with fill-in-the-blank sections. They can cover your needs—or they can fall short. Remember that if you use a photography contract template, any agreement you sign will be legally binding.
It’s always a good idea to have a lawyer look over your photography contracts, if possible. Proper legal advice will help ensure you cover key points and avoid unnecessary liability. You’ll ensure you can get paid for your photography services and protect your business from risk.
Once you have some standard contract examples drafted, you can include them on your photography website. This will help potential clients who find your portfolio or website online understand what to expect when they work with you.
5 Details a Photography Contract Should Include
Whether you go the do-it-yourself route or consult an attorney, you should look for specific elements in every photography contract. This is true no matter which type of photography you pursue—whether it’s commercial photography, portrait photography, or real estate photography.
1. Start and End Times
In every photography contract, clearly state the time you will start and end work. If you don’t, you risk clients for asking for extra work but not compensating you for your photography services. A few extra minutes may be reasonable, but extra hours will quickly start to add up.
Imagine that you are photographing an event. You’ll likely want to stay for its duration, with some extra time at the beginning for set up and at the end for wrap-up. For an event scheduled for eight hours, estimating ten hours on site can be reasonable. If clients need more of your time, you should charge them an additional fee and spell this out in your event photography contract.
The same types of considerations are also valid when setting up a wedding photography contract. You should negotiate the specific hours when you will be available to take wedding photos. If the couple and their friends are enjoying the party and want additional photography services beyond the agreed-upon window, remind them that you charge a fee for extra hours. They can make the call to pay you more to shoot more photos.
Although start and end times are vital for events, they are just as crucial for any other photography contract agreement. For example, you can specify times of a photo shoot in a family photography contract. If the family shows up late, you can end the contract on time which may be necessary if you have other bookings.
2. Pricing and Payment Terms
Every photography contract needs specific pricing and payment terms. You may find a need to use different rates for different types of photography. Sometimes a flat rate works best, while other times hourly is the right way to go. Hybrid approaches are also an option.
For professional photographers, it’s customary to charge a booking fee or a retainer fee. This is an up-front fee charged to the customer to guarantee the photographer will be available at the agreed-upon time. Often, this is 50% of the total for a flat-rate arrangement, with the remainder due before delivery of final photos.
When setting up a photography contract, consider every scenario that could add extra cost. Additional time is one obvious factor, and the number of images is another. What happens if you agree to deliver 20 high-resolution photos and the client wants five extra images? What if the client demands extra post-processing time to achieve a specific look for those pictures?
It’s reasonable to accommodate those changes, but also reasonable to charge more money. Be as specific as possible when detailing any potential extra fees.
Also, make sure that you are very clear about the final payment terms. Specify when this transaction will occur and who is responsible. Often, photographers will request final payment before they release photos to clients. That can help ensure that you’ll make the money you deserve for all your hard work.
However, you’ll also need to spell out what happens if clients fail to pay. You can add fees or advise that you’ll pursue collections. No one wants to go this route, but it can happen–so add appropriate safeguards in every photography contract.
If you expect more than two payments, you can search for a payment schedule template. This can be helpful for ongoing or multi-part arrangements. Consider this approach for a commercial photography contract or an engagement photography contract that can extend to future wedding services.
3. Deliverables and Due Dates
In every photography contract, you must specify how many images you will deliver to clients—and how these images will be provided. Will you publish high-resolution images to a gallery online for clients to download? Will you print photos or deliver them on a CD or flash drive?
Often, professional photographers find it convenient to outline several packages in a standard photography contract. Each package can increase in value as the number or quality of items delivered increases. This gives you and your clients a framework to start discussions, but you can always customize based on client needs.
Always be very clear about what you are delivering and when. For example, in a real estate photography contract, state that you will deliver 20 printed images of a property within five business days after the photoshoot. If your client wants commercial digital images, be sure to include costs up front.
By being specific with dates and deliverables, you have recourse to charge more for add-on requests. If a real estate agent client asks for 25 images instead of the agreed-upon 20, you’re entitled to an additional fee.
Also, it’s imperative to state that your deliverables are contingent upon the client taking certain actions. Imagine you have a food photography contract with a bakery boutique that says you’ll take photos of cupcakes, brownies, and wedding cakes on a specific date and time.
If the pastry chef is running late and hasn’t made any wedding cakes, you can’t photograph them. Your contract for photography should be very clear about what happens if you’re unable to fulfill the agreed-upon duties because of client actions or inactions.
4. Image Rights
Every contract for photography services must spell out who owns the resulting images. After all, there are two competing perspectives on this important issue. You captured the photos, so they are representations of your work. However, the client purchased them. So that implies they own the pictures.
You can take a protective photography approach in your photography contract. This means you’d only supply printed images and never give clients digital high-resolution images. Why would you go this route? If you have concerns about clients sharing or profiting from your work, this can be a smart move.
However, you may wish to take a more relaxed approach. With this path, you can provide digital images and give clients permission to print them. This can free you up from additional printing tasks, but open you to other issues.
What if your client pursues publication of your images on a stock photo site? What if they use them in a corporate brochure? What if a client posts them on social media and takes credit for your work?
It’s easy to see how problems can surface. And it’s easy to see why even the most simple photography contract needs to clarify image rights between parties.
Your clients likely don’t spend much time thinking about copyright issues in their day-to-day life. This will be new territory to many of them. You’ll need to cover what is acceptable both verbally and in your written contract. And you also need to detail what happens if copyright issues arise in every photography contract.
If you look at photography contract samples, you’ll often see that professional photographers retain the copyrights to their work. They’ll usually grant limited and non-exclusive use of images to clients. Also, if you’re negotiating rights for pre-existing photos, you can use a copyright ownership contract to cover this specific issue.
5. Protections for Yourself and Your Clients
When creating a photography contract, it’s important to specify how you will protect yourself if the unexpected occurs. What happens if you are on your way to fulfill a photography services contract at a client’s site and you hit a major traffic jam? What if you’re in the middle of taking photos for photography portrait contract and an electrical storm knocks out power to your lighting gear?
Every photographer contract has to outline what happens in these types of unpredictable situations. If you don’t have appropriate protections in your photography service contract, you could find yourself facing an expensive legal battle. What should you do? Many professional photographers state that they will return any money paid to-date and aren’t liable for any additional work. The clients are also not responsible for further payments.
In every photography contract, make sure that you include protections and terms that are favorable to clients as well. For example, you can offer discounts for prompt payments. You can agree to provide an extra image or two in exchange for a five-star review on social media.
In certain circumstances, you may have to give clients some flexibility to reschedule. Consider the case of a newborn photography contract, for example. What if the baby is sick on the day of the photo shoot? Or what if you sign a corporate photography contract to shoot executives but the CEO has to leave town unexpectedly. Always make sure every contract template includes consideration for both parties. This will make customers feel confident when they choose to do business with you.
Strong Photography Contracts Are a Must for Every Photography Business
As soon as you step into the world of professional photography, you need to start thinking about your photography contracts. These essential documents spell out the legal terms for your clients and protect you from unwanted scenarios.
You can get started by searching online for free photography contract templates to use as a guide. Remember to seek out specific examples for your areas of focus. You’ll soon find that a wedding photography contract is quite different from a commercial photography contract. It’s unlikely that you’ll have one general photography contract that covers all your needs, especially if you offer a variety of services.
While photography contract examples are an excellent place to start, you’ll need to tailor them to your business. Keep in mind that photography contract templates become binding legal agreements the minute you sign them with clients! Consulting with an attorney is always a good idea.
Make sure all of your photography contracts cover the basics. These essentials include the start and end times, payment terms, deliverables, due dates, and image rights. Always take care to protect yourself and your studio, while offering some reasonable concessions to clients.
You may never consider negotiating a contract to be the most fun part of being a photographer. But having a photography contract in place is a true necessity. These vital documents clearly outline work arrangements, so that you can enjoy and make the most of each photo shoot.