The Importance of a Legal Contract in Wedding Photography

The Importance of a Legal Contract in Wedding Photography

Most of the times, wedding photography is looked at as this big ball of happiness, glam, and glitz where two hearts come together to exchange eternal vows and so many people come together to celebrate it in a grand way. Now that’s the fun part. From a wedding photographer’s eyes, there’s a lot more to it. From client communication to shooting to editing to delivery, there are so many things that a wedding photographer juggles around before signing a project off happily. One of the most important parts of it is the legal contract.

Most of the weddings we shoot might be from very close referrals or even very own relatives. But then, on a professional note, it is always safe to come up with a contract agreed mutually by both parties so that no unfair advantage is taken. Out of some sweet and salty experiences, here are my two cents on how a proper contract can be built up in wedding photography. This will come handy to those who are getting started in wedding photography.

1. Get the Basics Right

The first and foremost thing that you need to outline in the contract is the essential information of the client and the photographer. The photographer's information can be printed as a template in the form and the client’s information can be got in as a custom field to be handwritten. Then the other essentials like the location, shoot date, the number of guests attending the wedding, and so on should be captured. It might sound trivial but trust me, you don’t want to prepare for a 50 people close-gathering and end up surprised to see 500 people thronging in. 

2. Time Your Work by Man Hours 

Because the client is paying us should not mean that they could avail us as long as they wish to. Sometimes, a shoot happens for eight hours, and at times, it extends up to 12 hours, continues day and night. This can be enduring. To avoid such unjust advantages taken by the clients, a clear statement on the number of hours you’d be on the field should be mentioned well in advance. Of course, this will vary according to the events but it is wise to have the man-hours incurred before, during and after the wedding, clearly in the contract. Extra time does not mean extra rewards but only needless frustration. So beware!


3. Price Smart and Sensible

When it comes to money, remember that both friends and strangers fall into the same bracket. Pay extra attention when quoting the price and be precise. You can state a flat rate, hourly pricing, or a mix of both where you have a fixed rate up to an extent (time/event) and additional charges from there on. And make sure you include all the scenarios from shooting to delivery. For instance, in the post-processing stage, the client might get choosy and ask the editors to spend a little more time in the processing certain images. Such unseen situations have to be accounted into the costing too.

4. Pay Attention to Payment Terms

Do not get carried away when the client signs your contract and shakes hands with a smile. You can save your smile until the full amount is paid and done. The above-mentioned tip is about pricing but the payments terms are altogether a different thing. You can start with a deposit that needs to be placed before proceeding, a partial amount to be paid after the shoot and the remaining amount on delivery. It depends but you have to mention this clearly, and very well include late payment charges too by days/weeks/months. Include the case of failure to pay the total amount too. Such points might sound funny to contemplate but you never know what happens until it does. And otherwise too, the client will only see this as a mark of professionalism and appreciate the credibility.

5. Bulls-eye on Deliverable Items

Many of us have a preset module of deliverables included in the contract, say the number of events/photos/albums and so on. But what is necessary to go further a step and include basic details rather than generic details. Like for example, is it 20 photos or 20 hundred photos that you’ll be delivering? Is it a digital DVD or a hardbound album that you are going to do or both? In the video section, how long will be the duration? Confidently state these details and anything else can be an extra bonus. Also, one added point is to include the cooperation of the client as an element. For instance, if getting-ready-session-photos are a part of the agreement, then make sure the client has to be ready on time and give space for photos. At times the client would not show up on time, giving very less scope for getting ready photos, yet sport a frown face in the end and asking for a discount in the price too later.

6. Breathe a Confident Delivery Date and Time

“So when will I be getting my wedding photos?” - the client would call up and ask with a smile, the day after the wedding. In due time, the smile disappears and he or she starts pestering about the delivery unless you had stated it in clear contract terms. Just like the payment terms, the delivery dates are critical and make sure you promise them a precise date. Break the project into phases, deliver a quick set of images in a short period and the full set in a stipulated period of time ahead. The anticipation of the client is natural as they’d want to hold their precious memories in hand, but that can’t be your problem. So like said, plan the delivery date properly with enough buffer space that allows no chance for any unseen goof-ups.

7. The Case of Copyrights

The client pays for your service. You click their images and deliver. But then, who owns the rights to these images? That’s a tricky question. On the creative side, you are usually free to publish it on any platform, especially in this social media frenzy world. But it is safe to have a copyright cost included in the quote in case the client wants to maintain absolute privacy online and looks to own the rights wholly. This clause needs to be addressed and handled with care.

8. The Frenzy of Friendly Photographers

All set and packed to shoot, we land on the venue and oops! There is already a bunch of people standing in line with expense DSLR cameras. Now, who are these people? They might be another photography team that the bride and groom side hired or even a group of photography-crazy friends who want to try their hands at photography. During the shoot, this becomes a big hassle with everyone squeezing in. It is better to raise your concerns regarding this in the contract itself.

9. Expect the Unexpected 

What if you fall terribly sick on the day of the shoot and unable to make it in person? What if your camera gets stolen on spot or gets broken as the playful kid in the yellow boots trips it down? What if the event gets postponed or even canceled? There are endless possibilities. You have to imagine and create sensible clauses covering such sudden happenings. It is wise to have a conversation on this in the earlier phase itself in the contract rather than being sued at a later stage for mistakes that you did not do or foresee.

10. Make It Sound and Sense "Mutual"

The points we have discussed above might sound favoring the photographer’s side. That’s exactly the point of this post, to have you covered in a professional way on any circumstance. But from the client’s side, such premeditated calculation should not scare them away. Instead, what is advisable is to have a mutually beneficial tone where they feel belonged and a part of the conversation. This establishes credibility in the client’s side and that matters. Once you have drafted the contract, put yourself in the client’s shoes and read through it once. See how it feels. Make sure it is professional and makes mutual sense.

That’s pretty much about it. Go ahead; tailor your wedding contract - smart and sensible!

Amar Ramesh's picture

An entrepreneur by profession and a wanderer by nature, Amar Ramesh is a creative photographer based in Chennai, India. Wedding photography being his forte with over 300 weddings under his belt, he also shoots fashion, kids, documentary films, heritage, and lifestyle. And he enjoys sharing his experiences constantly.

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Great reminders. Good post !

Hi there Amar, I do like Indian weddings with their over the top multiple colours. I remember taking one of our relatives wedding photographs when I was about 14. Told my parents that the bride looks little pregnant. Parents said, Don't be silly, they just got married". Well, I can tell you, the couple confessed. Camera does not lie.

Well said. I found a contract was essential as was a properly constructed timetable.

I love the couple in the mini photo!