The Importance of Contracts and Their Language

The Importance of Contracts and Their Language

One of the most overlooked aspects during the jump from amateur to professional photographer is the business end of contracts. You may be excited for this new adventure of creating art, but if you are asking for payment for your services, your contract is the last place you want to skimp on the details.

Pay Ahead for Council

One of the first questions asked is "Do we really need a contract?" The answer is simple. If you enjoy the hassle of a potential court issue, then no. However, if you are like the rest of us who would rather put the effort in prior to a session this is a definite yes. Seeking council is a start to making sure you are on the right path for your company. Paying ahead of time for the correct contract language will save you in the long run from a potential disaster that could have been avoided with the correct wording.

Purchasing Contracts

A great site to  purchase  template contracts from is through Brianna and Ewan Phelan at Do More Wear Less, where they supply contracts ranging from boudoir, weddings, and even pet photography. All templates that can be customized to your own company adding in you own specific needs. They have even given all Fstoppers readers a 25% code found here using code "Fstoppers."

Many photographers make the mistake of using their contract solely as a place to state what the client owes and will receive. In reality, a professional contract is a way to protect yourself and your business, while setting expectations for the client also. We watched too many photographers get backed into a corner by a bully client and give money back because of a lack of a solid contract. One very important clause is in regards to date changing. Photographers need to protect themselves from a client changing wedding dates, and the potential to lose planned income.

"THE CLIENT agrees that the paid retainer of is non-refundable/non-transferable in order to hold reservation/date with [YOUR COMPANY NAME]. Any change of date requires a newly signed Contract and retainer. THE CLIENT agrees that the initial Contract and retainer become void and that THE CLIENT is subject to the most current pricing options. THE CLIENT agrees that if he/she cancels the Wedding Photography Shoot before it is completed, the retainer and all additional payments are void and not valid as a credit towards any other Sessions or products with YOUR COMPANY NAME].

Keep yourself protected and purchase a professional contract, updating it yearly. It is a small investment that can save you a lot of trouble.

What is Needed

The amount of information that you should include depends on what kind of work you are providing. A boudoir photographer does not need to include vendor meals the way a wedding photographer might. Anna Johnson, a wedding photographer out of San Diego, tells us a bit about a situation that was controlled simply by her contract language.

Is so important to include everything into your contract. As a wedding photographer I include everything from vendor meals, parking, model rights along with what type of image rights and if we include albums with requirements for that album. We have had clients who have tried to get out of these terms. One example was when a bride booked her wedding with a year prior to her event. In this example the bride ended up "Calling Off" the wedding. Our contract protects us (and the client) that the fee made to us is a non-refundable fee. This assures the couple that their day will be held for them and assures us that business expenses for this day will be covered. In this instance we informed the bride of her contract and told her we would not be able to refund her.

Now we understand that this situation was also heart breaking for this bride and so we did offer her a woman's portrait session on the same day to lift her spirits up and start her off anew. It's always our goal as a company to follow our contract but to also give understanding to the client within the means of our company.

The contract was clearly stated that the fee was non-refundable, but with excellent customer service Johnson kept the client on good terms with a portrait session. Johnson also wrote that she calls it a "booking fee as if it was a retainer or deposit it's not to hold the day. We feel that using the word "Booking Fee" brings clarification to any confusion of what that % is used for.States can vary on the wording you choose to use so it's important to make sure your using the correct words to not add confusion if in the event there is a problem."


The Dreaded Corrupt Files

It is almost bound to happen to each photographer perhaps once in their career when the files become corrupt or lost. Cate Scaglione recently had such an issue and had to explain to the client when they demanded to see all the images from the session.

While I promised to do a reshoot and make things right for the client, emotions were running rather high. I contacted my insurance company, because it's important to have an errors and omissions clause in your policy. If you don't have this look it up! When I saw it was $1000 deductible I instead called PPA for their indemnification support. Through membership they supply attorney advice.

It turns out that my contract had me well covered in terms of such mistakes, and while the client was upset, I was legally well covered. I felt a sigh of relief.

In these scenarios I believe it is important to not only honor what the contract states but also go above and beyond to make things right from a customer service standpoint. For me this meant getting the clients a hotel, a reshoot, and all the digital files. I wasn't legally required but it was right thing to do. This horrible debacle, which I thought could end up in a lawyers lap, in the end became a $4500 sale.

Again another instance where contracts saved the photographer from any legal issues, but the customer service saved the client photographer relationship.

The Details

Re Bastien wrote about the details that have come into play over her career in photography. "My experience has been to separate model releases from the contract as they are the most finicky part of the process and most likely to be challenged or changed. I also find you need to verbally explain the contract. I have important details such as cancelation policies and return policies on my website, receipts, and all my communication during the booking process."

Other details that should be added in could be items such as policies on other photographers shooting for weddings, or other people present during studio sessions. Others should be payment terms, deliverables, model releases, hours of work, cancelation policies, and even mutual protection for your client. Natural disasters or acts that prohibit the photographer from shooting (such as accidents, sicknesses or equipment malfunctions) should be included to protect your client as well.

If you would like, leave your contract stories or something that helped save you in any issues in the comments.

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

JT is known throughout the International Boudoir Photography Industry and the region for her unique approach to Fine Art Photography. Her underwater work as JT Aqua is ethereal based and conceptual. She is an educator, writer and currently teaching workshops for underwater and boudoir.

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I think you mean "counsel" not "council." ...correct [article] language will save you in the long run from a potential disaster that could have been avoided with the correct wording. :)

Typos!! Thanks for catching that!

Wow, this is big boy advice... So far I've only shot mostly friends and/or acquaintances, but this advise seems both realistic and important- will definitely keep this in mind! I've paid a couple of models unscathed without legal problems thankfully, but this is most def food for thought. Thanks, great article!