5 Clauses to Include in Your Photography Contracts

5 Clauses to Include in Your Photography Contracts

No matter how uncomfortable it might feel to send out a photography contract at the beginning of your commercial photography journey, having a robust contract in place is essential for creating professional relationships with your clients. 

Using a photography contract will help you to establish expectations (from both parties), protect yourself from misunderstandings or miscommunications, and will ultimately lead to a more polished and streamlined working relationship. Not only this, but your clients will expect a contract and will feel reassured when they receive one from you.  

What are some key clauses to cover in your photography contract? 

The Scope of Work 

While you have already discussed the scope of work over the phone and/or on email, it’s important to reiterate this is in your contract. 

Don’t be afraid to drill down on the details here so that nothing is left out and so that neither party forgets what they have committed to. You can write down the exact number of images agreed to and list out the shots requested here. This will protect you from clients wanting to alter the shot list or add extra scenes on the day, causing your schedule to become unmanageable or rushed. 

This clause is really important in a commercial photography contract because it states who owns the images, who can use them, and in what ways. 

Unless you have given away the copyright to the client, you own your images. A great example to think of is listening to a band on Spotify. You pay for a license to listen to their music, but you don’t own their songs. The client pays for a license to use your images, but they don’t own them. 

In your contract, state how the client is allowed to use the images, what platforms they can use them on, for how long, and in what territories. In general, the larger the client, the more specific these details will be.

In months to come, if you spot an image of yours being used in a way that it was not licensed to be used, you can use your signed contract to help you receive fair compensation. 


Payment Details 

You’ll have already provided the client with a quote before sending a contract, so there shouldn’t be any surprises here, but laying out the full cost of the shoot is important to make sure everyone is on the same page. 

This section should include your creative fee as well as additional costs the client can expect to pay for, such as the assistance of a props or food stylist, shoot assistant, location hire fee, equipment hire fees, and even travel expenses. 

Remember to include your payment schedule so the client understands what percentage they will need to pay upfront and when the remaining amount will be due. Outline late fees that the client will incur if they don’t pay on time. 

Cancellation and Rescheduling Policy 

Including a cancellation policy is important to protect you as a self-employed business owner if a client cancels at the last minute. The exact details of what this policy looks like in your business is up to you, but make sure you clearly share the details for when you will charge a cancellation fee. 

Along these lines, consider including a rescheduling policy. Sometimes, life happens, and while both parties might want the photoshoot to take place, freak weather incidents happen, illness happens, and so on. In your contract, outline how much notice you’ll need to reschedule a shoot.  


Performance of Services

As long as you execute the work to the standard seen on your portfolio and you follow the client’s brief accurately, the performance of services clause protects you from clients requesting a refund or reshoot. 

Most photographers are happy to accommodate small changes or minor edits if a client asks politely with a valid reason. Including this clause will protect you from an entire reshoot if the client has changed direction since signing the contract or has taken on the opinion of another stakeholder who wasn’t involved in creating the original brief. 

Conclusion

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of photography contract must-haves by any means, it includes some clauses that have really protected me over the last couple of years. I’d love to know what other clauses you have found invaluable to include in your commercial photography contracts. 

If you are looking for more robust help with a photography contract, I would recommend The Contract Shop for specific photography templates written by a lawyer without the expense of a bespoke contract.  

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9 Comments
Doug Pizac's picture

There are other clauses that are equally important if not more important than the ones listed in the story if you want to protect your work and get paid. For example: "This agreement is not a work made for hire." "Copyright and all film, prints, media, and digital files remain the property of Photographer. The only rights granted to the Photographs are those specifically set forth under Rights Granted/Media Usage.” "Licensing/usage begins at moment of delivery to client." And "No rights are granted until payment is received in full. Failure to make timely payment shall be deemed a willful act of copyright infringement under the United States Copyright Act of 1976." The first makes it very clear that you're not an employee which would grant image ownership to the client regardless of what is said elsewhere in the contract. The second specifies that anything outside the realm of the usage licensing rights remain with the photographer. The third starts the licensing clock running at the time of delivery which negates the client from later saying they don't want to use the image after all and therefore do not have to pay you. You're not only licensing image usage, but length of usage. The client still has to pay you whether they use the image(s) or not. And lastly, they don't get to legally use the image(s) until you're paid IN FULL. And if they choose to not pay or not pay in full, then they are admitting intent to infringe which can be used to justify and enhance punitive damages, collection of attorney fees, etc. -- provided you have dutifully registered the image(s) with the U.S. Copyright department to gain those added protections/benefits.

Michelle VanTine's picture

EXCELLENT ARTICLE!!!! The performance one actually happened to me last week. I received a brief from the creative director of a large company. I executed it excellently, she herself raved of the images upon receipt. Then when the images were presented to the Marketing Director -she hated them! I went into the office to try to smooth things over and I found out at that time that the Marketing Director never saw the brief from the CD before it was sent to me. Now they want a free or significantly discounted reshoot but I keep coming back to the 1) contract and 2) the fact that I executed the brief. What a nightmare .

Lee Christiansen's picture

Last year I had a video client who wanted to do something, but weren't sure what or how to execute it.

So they asked ME to conceive and write the brief, which I submitted in writing as a comprehensive document. They agreed to it and we started the shoot - which the manager was at to watch.

As it was my concept, obviously I stuck to it like glue. Heck it was a good brief that I'd written...

Despite all this, the manager still tried to say I hadn't worked to the brief - not even close... It didn't matter how many times I referred them to my concept / brief document which mirrored exactly what I had produced, the manager stuck to his guns.

Oh, and he also specifically asked to have final delivery as ProRes422, but when I delivered it as such, he said it was the wrong format - eve though I had an email from him confirming the ProRes422 request. Again, he was not budging.

But I had a clear paper trail and I didn't back down. Payment in full ad then I told them to find someone else for future projects - knowing that my competition couldn't deliver the quality that I did and would charge 2x my rates. I don't think they even tried to do more of those projects.

(Of course, he's still there - probably screaming at every production person he meets).

Make sure there is a paper trail for agreements. Never trust a client.

Helena Murphy's picture

Sounds like a nightmare scenario Lee. Good for you for not backing down and having everything in writing to fall back on!

Helena Murphy's picture

Thank you Michelle. I'm sorry this happened to you - total nightmare! Good for you, stick to your guns!

Dennis Hill's picture

All excellent points. And for those who shy away from getting a signed proposal, I found that those business that have a problem are the type of clients I don't want to work with as they are trouble and a big headache. Good business use contracts all the time and won't have a problem with yours.

Lee Christiansen's picture

Just like we have contracts - be wary of the client who wants you to sign an indemnity clause which makes you responsible for anything in your images that may infringe intellectual rights or copyright. (ie if you have a Coca-Cola sign in your shot, they use it without clearing use and then try to lay it on you).

I make a point of having those clauses removed. (They're usually in their contracts as boiler-plate clauses because thats' what they put in everything - and more useful for things like software development).

Only ever had on client refuse to remove it. So I didn't work for them. Who would want to bear responsibility for use of an image when we have no control how they're going to use the image...? Not me.

So check anything you're required to sign and don't be afraid to modify it.

Doug Pizac's picture

I had one potential client last fall that was hot to trot to have me shoot an event for them because of my skill sets so I wrote up a straight forward one-page contract giving them what they wanted while protecting my rights -- basically I shoot, I deliver, they pay me. Instead of signing it, four hours before the event they handed me a 7-page contract that granted them copyright, sublicensing rights, perpetuity, etc. The killer clause was Indemnification. The first sentence said if I provided content that was libelous, false or created other problems that harmed the company that I would be responsible. That's a normal expectation -- I screw up, I'm on the hook. The second sentence however said that if THEY do anything libelous, false, etc. with my imagery, then I would also be responsible for all their actions -- court costs, attorney fees, judgements against the company, etc. In other words, they screw up and I'm their financial savior. I said no way so they withdrew the job, adding none of the other photographers they have hired had a problem signing it. The client ended up using one of their employees to shoot the event. Most of the images were not sharp, bad lighting, missed the action, poor composition and was basically all B-roll content where the important parts of the event were not shot.

Tony Clark's picture

Despite covering all my bases, last week I had a client break every point on my paperwork. She was late on the retainer, demanded RAW files, we agreed on 30 edited JPEG's then later demanded 97 RAW files and claimed Copyrights on the shoot. She also said that she will not use me again or recommend me to others and the next note would be from her Attorney. While remaining calm, I explained to her that I created the images, own Intellectual Property of the images and would defend it if needed. BTW< I saw this coming and actually register the images with LOC before it was resolved. I told her that I'd write off the balance and chalk it up to experience. In the end, she received exactly what I described in the estimate and I'll be in Small Claims Court if she doesn't pay my invoice within seven days. Despite every effort to act professionally, there are some that will try to bully, intimidate or outright disregard the document they signed. If others hear her complain about me and believer her, I don't care to have them as a client anyway.