Starting your own photography business can be very rewarding. However, we often let our creative right-brain get ahead of the left-brain practicalities and fail to ensure we are adequately protected from a legal standpoint. Corporate Attorney Adriel Sanders sent us these important legal considerations that may seem obvious to some, but many overlook.
1. Always use a written contract.
I cannot tell you the number of people that do not use written contracts in their business and it is probably the worst decision ever! You should enter into a written contract every time you provide photography services. A written contract contains language that protects both you and your work. By clearly outlining payment terms and the rights and duties of each party in a written contract, you will substantially reduce the chance of a future dispute. Furthermore, requiring prospective clients to enter into a contract is a sign of professionalism. It may seem odd at first to ask your friend to enter into a contract, but it demonstrates you take your work seriously. Always remember that if you treat your photography like a business, you will make business money. But, if you treat your photography like a hobby, you will make hobby money.
2. Ensure you have a form model release, location release and/or print release.
If you intend to use models or plan to utilize a private location in photos you intend to sell, you need to obtain a model release or location release. A model release is a liability waiver granting the photographer the right to use the images in one form or another. The release is signed by the model and preferably a witness, and the language may vary depending upon whether the model is an adult or child. Generally, people in public places are fair game; however, be sensitive. The moment you take that person’s image and associate it with a specific product or service, you open yourself and your client to a lawsuit. So, exercise judgment even if your subject is in a public place.
A location release is a liability waiver granting the photographer the right to shoot on private property and use the resulting images in one form or another. The release should be signed by the owner of the property or the owner’s authorized representative. Not shooting on private property? Well, do not assume you are free to shoot away. Many city and state governments require you to obtain a permit if you plan to use certain landmarks, structures or locations for commercial purposes.
A print release allows the recipient of your images to print those images for personal use. It protects your ownership rights as the photographer, while also allowing the client to share the images on a limited basis. It is important to note that a print release usually only allows the CLIENT (or any other names specifically listed on the release) to share images - it does not allow the client’s aunt’s sister’s kid to share or print the images.
3. Put everything in writing.
Do you need to reschedule the shoot? Send your client an email. Did the client call you to reschedule a shoot? As soon as you hang up the phone, send a confirmatory email to the client. Does the client want to clarify or modify the scope of services? Send the client an email and put any clarifications or modifications in writing. I assume you are getting the point.
If you intend to modify any terms of the contract after (or even before) the contract has been signed, you need to ensure such modifications are in writing. And, depending on the language in your photography contract, if you and the client modify the contract after entering into it, you need to (a) expressly note that you are modifying the terms of the contract and (b) ensure the client agrees to such modification in writing. Additionally, if the client requests clarification on anything in the contract, send the client a confirmatory email as a way to document such clarifications. Once you and the client have finalized any modifications or clarifications, print both the email you sent to the client and the response of the client and attach these emails to your contract. Again, you can prevent future disputes and ensure both parties are on the same page by simply ensuring you have a written record of your arrangement.
4. Here's how to handle disputes.
Despite your best efforts, you may eventually find yourself in a dispute with a client. When this happens, first and foremost, remain professional. Many disputes can be solved by simply keeping a level head. The goal is to avoid any form of litigation, (litigation is expensive) so the actions you take early-on are crucial. Plus, if you react in the heat of the moment, you might end up being held liable in the event of litigation. Ensure all communications with the client are in writing and even if the client is in the wrong, try to negotiate with the client to reach a suitable resolution. This does not mean that you should allow yourself to be a doormat; however, if you can solve the issue to the client’s satisfaction, you minimize the chances of him or her bad-mouthing you all over the Internet. However, there may come a point where the issue cannot be resolved amicably and at this point, it may be time to speak with an attorney.
5. Know when it’s time to contact an attorney.
If you have made every effort to resolve an issue and the client has become completely unreasonable or refuses to pay the remaining balance after cancelling the contract prematurely, then you might need to consult an attorney. You also should consider consulting an attorney if the client has taken to defaming you and your business on the Internet or in your community. Many business review websites allow the business to respond directly to a poor review; however, sometimes people go to the extremes and begin to defame you, which is not acceptable. It is important to note that you need to be able to establish that the client is lying in any defamation claim. And, in any litigation action, the ability to show that you tried to work with the client is a huge plus. This is where your written records come in handy.
Additionally, you should also try to hire an attorney to review your client contract and any model, location or print releases. While it might seem easy to just pull something from the internet, each business’ needs are different and since you have taken the time to start your business, you should take the time to ensure both you and your work are adequately protected.
Now, the thought of hiring an attorney may seem like a daunting task, but it is not as complicated as it may seem. Nearly every major city has an organization that provides legal assistance to photographers, videographers, or other artists for free or on a reduced-fee basis.
This list is by no means comprehensive; however, I hope I have given you a few things to consider as you begin building your photography business.
Adriel Sanders is a Corporate Attorney and Photographer. She assists with drafting and reviewing contracts and informing individuals of the legal issues affecting a business. If you would like more information about creating contracts or other legal tips, be sure to check out her website.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only. While Adriel is an attorney, she is not your attorney. Nothing in this article should be or is intended to be taken as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. Contacting her in any capacity, including via the comments section, does not create an attorney-client relationship. The receipt or viewing of this information is not intended to create any attorney-client relationship.