Having a contract for your photographic work can be a real life-saver. It can guarantee that you get paid, protect your rights and ensure you have full control over your work, and also save you in legal situations. But what do you need to include to put a contract together? Here’s everything you need to get started.
The very first thing that you need is the contact information for both parties. This means both yourself and the client you are working with. You need to have a name, a business name if applicable, an address, a telephone number, and possibly an email address too.
These details are to be used to contact one another should any problems arise. They are also used to identify the parties in the contract and to ensure that everything is clear should it come down to a legal situation.
In this section, set out the items, services, or digital products that your client can expect to receive. Make everything as definite as possible so that there is no room for misunderstanding. For example, you should specify how long you will shoot for, what day the photoshoot will take place on, how many files you will deliver, whether they will be fully edited, and what format they will be in.
You should also give a deadline for the delivery of these services. It’s tricky to always run your business at full speed as you never know what might come up, so try to give yourself a bit of breathing space in the contract, just in case. If you know that you can always deliver in two weeks, tell them you will do it in three. Not only is this good sense for protecting yourself against those emergency situations, but it also means your client will be pleased when you go beyond their expectations to deliver faster.
In this section, you set out how much the client is going to owe you for the work and when they should pay it. For example, you can set out that they should make the payment within one month of the images being delivered, or within one month of the photoshoot if you prefer.
You may also lay out terms for a deposit, to be paid at the same time as the contract is signed.
This can also be a place to lay out why your clients are paying that particular amount. You can break your fee down into individual components, such as shooting time, editing, delivery, equipment fees, studio fees, and so on. This can really help your client to understand why your work is priced the way it is, giving them a greater respect for what you do.
Don’t forget to add in details about how the payment should be made. If you only take cash or bank transfers, this is the place to talk about it. You can also add in specifics such as your bank account details so that the customer doesn’t have to do any guesswork – it’s all laid out right there in front of them.
What happens when
This section is for all of those little ‘what ifs’ that may arise. You can lay out what will happen if the client cancels (no deposit refund; payment for half the session fee if cancelled less than 24 hours before; etc), if you cancel (deposit returned; priority booking for another date if possible), if the client isn’t happy with your work, and so on.
You can also lay out terms such as how long your client has to change their mind after signing the contract, and so on. This will really help to protect you against people cancelling their sessions at the last minute and leaving you out of pocket!
Terms, breaks, and so on
If you are shooting for a full day or more, such as when covering a wedding, you may want to add in clauses which allow you to get the kind of rights an employee would. You are entitled to ask for breaks which are written into your contract, to be provided with food (especially when photographing a reception or dinner), and to have access to facilities such as toilets.
These terms protect your rights as a worker, which you may not have automatically as a freelancer or business owner. It’s a way to ensure that you can stay sane and keep your human rights without being accused of slacking off or breaking contract!
Copyright and usage rights
This is a really important section for professional photographers, because your images are your money-makers. You don’t want to give them away for free simply because you forgot to specify terms and rights regarding who owns the photographs once they have been paid for.
The best option, in most cases, is to specify that you retain all rights to the images, include copyright as the content creator. This will allow you to sell them to your clients again in the future, as new products or as extra versions of products they already have. It also means that they can’t use them for commercial uses without your say-so.
Let’s go down a worst-case scenario route. Imagine that someone pays you to take beautiful portraits of themselves and pays for a portrait session. The next thing you know, you see those images on the other side of your town being used to advertise a rival photography studio. They claim that you sold them the images in full, including all rights to their usage. You don’t have a contract, so you can’t argue.
With a contract stating that the images still belong to you, there’s no way this could happen.
This advice is by no means ironclad and you should always seek advice from a legal professional when putting any kind of contract together. It’s worth making sure that there are no gaps and loopholes in your wording with someone who really knows what they are doing!