Updated: Feb 28
For Valentine’s Day, we’re exploring the ever so romantic topic of photographer’s contracts. Whether you’re newly engaged and looking to hire a photographer for your engagement shoot or wedding, or simply want someone to capture a special moment you are planning-this month’s post is for you! This February, we discuss the important components of a contract for photography services and what you should keep in mind when selecting a photographer.
Drawing up and discussing a contract with a potential client is likely the most boring part of a photographer’s job, but it is also essential. And while it may seem contracts for photography services benefit one party more than another, it is most likely a compromise and mutual agreement between both parties to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Moreover, the contract is important because it helps protect both parties from liability, failed expectations, and unforeseen costs. At the end of the day, both you and the photographer want the same thing - capturing your important event.
Below we discuss five main topics every photography contract should include and point out a few things to keep in mind when deciding on who to hire.
How long is the event and how much will it cost me?
Crucial terms in a photography contract are the event details and the payment structure. You will want to make sure there is a firm start and end time for the photographer. This is not only pertinent for the photographer, but it can also save you from unforeseeable expenses. If you know upfront that an extra hour or two of the photographer’s time will cost you a few hundred dollars, you can avoid future conflict when the additional expense is added to your final bill.
Clear payment structures are also crucial to a good photographer/client relationship. Each payment deadline should explicitly state how much is due and what day it is due. For example, the photographer may request a retainer, a second deposit, and then a final payment.
Another photographer may request one-third of the expected final cost as a deposit and the remainder at the time of the event. Each photographer will have his or her own preference, so just make sure it is clearly stated and you know when you have to make a payment and what any additional costs may be. And pro tip for photographers-if you’re doing a multi-hour shoot, definitely get a percentage up front.
What is the final product?
It is important the contract fully explains the photographer’s scope of services, or more appropriately, what you’re getting when everything is finished. This section should be detailed and list every part of the services and final product. For example, how many photos will the photographer deliver? Will the photos be processed (edited) or is the photographer simply capturing images?
Will there be final prints or will you receive digital versions to print yourself? Are prints included or an extra cost? A lot of times, photographers will provide you with watermarked digital photos and then you can choose a printing package. A key tip-make sure you know if the price a photographer quotes you includes their day-of services and prints, or just the services.
You should also consider what specific images you want captured and have them listed as well. For example, if it is your wedding day, you may want a picture of your dress before you put it on. But it is equally important that you as the client grant the photographer access to the places and moments you want captured so the photographer can adequately do his or her job and you receive the photos you really want. And you giving access is not always all that is needed-if you are having the photographer present while you are getting your hair done, make sure to check with your hairdresser/salon first.
This conversation is important and most likely part of the initial conversation you’ll have when shopping around, but before signing the contract, ensure everything you discussed and all your expectations are in writing.
How long will it take to receive proofs and the final photos?
This provision may vary photographer to photographer, but it is important to have an established timeframe so there is accountability and also no unspoken expectations. If you want final photos one week after your event, it may be unreasonable for the photographer to have the images processed and printed in the short timeframe.
Again, the length of time will depend on the number of photos or if it is a busy time of year, but this is another important discussion to have and may be open for negotiation. It should be noted that there may be two (or more) timelines - how long for the proofs and how long for the final prints. In addition, there may be an expected timeframe for photo selection; you cannot expect the photographer to return the final prints within six weeks if you take five weeks to choose from the proofs!
This contract provision tends to be less rigid than the other provisions, but it is helpful to know when you can expect to receive your prints, and it helps keep everyone on a schedule to mitigate delays and avoid potential disputes. A tip for clients-having a clear timeline, also gives you the knowledge as to if the photographer has breached the contract or not and a clause to point to if they are very delayed.
Who owns the photos?
Photography services can bring up copyright issues because a photographer is an artist and has spent a lot of time perfecting technique and becoming an expert in the medium. Thus, it seems to follow the photographer solely owns the photos, right? Not necessarily. As the client, you may have some rights as well.
It is common for photography contracts to have a section discussing copyright or ownership of the photos. It is also common for photographers to retain the copyright of the photos but assign you a non-exclusive use right so that you can mostly do as you wish with the photos. Make sure it is clear between both you and the photographer which images you can use if you don’t purchase prints and if they require you to provide any credit to them.
There may also be a photo release within the copyright section or elsewhere in the contract, but it could be entirely separate. A photo release allows the photographer to use the photos from your event for almost anything. This may include any marketing or advertising, publication, reproduction, or derivative work.
A photo release will last for an indefinite period of time unless otherwise specified, and as the client, you will not be able to approve the photos before use. While it may seem invasive, this component is important to the photographer because it addresses photo use for their portfolio.
Moreover, it can be neat to have your event be an example for future clients to see! If this is something you are not quite comfortable with, it is best to be open with the photographer and make sure their services are not contingent on you signing the photo release. If that is the case, the photo release, or similar language, should not be in the final contract so be on the lookout before you sign.
Oh no! What happens if something unforeseeable happens or there is a cancellation?
You may not want to think about worst case scenario, but it is necessary, and there should be a section in your contract discussing what would happen. There should be two parts to this section - one for unforeseeable events and one discussing cancellation. An unforeseeable event is something no one would expect to happen.
This may include poor weather or equipment failure. In this case, the photographer’s liability is typically limited to refunding the client’s deposit or the retail value of the final product, or in some cases both parties agree to not charge the other if an unforeseeable event occurs.
As the client, it is possible you may have to cancel your session with the photographer. To address a cancellation, the contract should have a clear policy outlining what part of the deposit is non-refundable, how much notice the photographer needs for cancellation and if there is an additional expense if you cancel after that time, and the method for cancellation, which is typically in writing at the very least.
While talking contract terms is not the most romantic part of getting engaged, married, or celebrating a life event, they can be crucial to making sure it’s one less thing to worry about on the day. And remember, whether you’re a photographer or client, don’t hesitate to ask a lawyer to review or draft your contract to help you navigate any tricky clauses.
Have a great February, lovebirds!