Many photographers find legal contracts to be a bit scary, and we were certainly no different, but we learned early on that having a sound legal contract was crucial to protecting our photography business and livelihood.
When we first began photographing weddings 15 years ago, our contract was just a few lines at the bottom of an invoice stating just the client’s name, wedding date and package purchased. Many times along the way we would say, “Geez, if only we had known, we would have added that in,” and over the years, we did just that. To this day, we can recall every situation we’ve encountered that caused the length of our contract to grow and a few of our hairs to turn gray.
To show you just how much we’ve learned over the years and how many different scenarios have played out, our contract has grown to be ten pages in length. You may think that sounds more like a celebrity contract, but it’s what we’ve created to legally protect ourselves. Remember, your clients, as nice as they may be, aren’t concerned about how you are going to make your next mortgage or car payment. So here we go, sharing some of the most important things we’ve learned along the way to create a, dare we say it, “iron-clad contract.”
Presentation is Everything
For the sake of keeping it friendly with potential clients, we like to refer to our legal contract as a “wedding agreement.” The word “contract” has connotations of binding restrictions, or even possibly putting a hit out on someone, and we certainly don’t want to go there…at least not yet.
During an initial consultation, we like to keep the emphasis on photography, service and building a good rapport. We do not focus too much attention on our contract at this point unless specifically asked. Once we get to the next step, however, we like to meet with the client in person whenever possible to go over the details of our agreement section by section. Personally going over the agreement makes the contract less scary to clients and cuts down on miscommunication. We don’t send our agreement via email for this very reason. If the client can’t make it in, we review the contract over the phone and then email a copy.
Don’t be afraid to lose a client if they are against signing your contract or insist on making numerous changes. People who want to tell you how to run your business will only cost you a lot of time, money and aggravation in the long run.
The Nuts and Bolts
In addition to the basics, such as names and dates, be sure to include a detailed list of every service, product and price included in your collection. If there are add-ons or options for later, such as additional coverage, number of album pages, retouching, etc., list the prices for these so that there are no surprises.
That’s right, it’s time for dinner, but not always for us. We photographers have been working a long day, but the client doesn’t always remember to feed us. Make sure that your contract includes a hospitality clause. State whether you will be eating a guest meal in the dining room or a boxed lunch in a separate area. Should they not feel the need to feed you, require the allotted time you need to eat somewhere else.
Shooting on location? Make sure to specify your travel requirements. We ask for roundtrip airfare and travel time. You’re spending a lot of time away from your business and should be compensated accordingly. Include accommodations at the host hotel as well as a per diem to cover meals and expenses while you are away. State transportation reimbursement for taxis, Ubers, subways, trains, etc. If you need to rent a car, be sure that this expense is covered as well.
If you provide your client with digital files, let them know the image size they’ll receive and any restrictions you may have with these images. Also let your client know how long you will be responsible for storing their digital images.
Oops! The Wedding’s Off
A cancellation clause is crucial to include in your contract. Most cancellations are due to couples not going through with their wedding. If this is the case, you need to be firm on your policy. Chances are that you passed on another client for the same date and you need to be compensated for the loss.
State in your contract that you own the copyright to all of the images. Photographers should never give that right away. We have, however, found that high-profile clients may ask for certain restrictions on how we may or may not present their images. In these situations, we have made exceptions and softened the language of the copyright usage to allow them to give their approval.
Marc & Tony are internationally recognized as one of the top wedding and portrait photography teams. Marc, an award-winning photographer, and Tony, a creative director, have had their work featured in many publications around the world including People, US Weekly and Hello magazines, along with industry publications and several books. They are two individual artists with different talents and points of view who collaborate together as a team, personally photographing each and every wedding. Marc and Tony’s unique approach to photography and storytelling result in a signature style of imagery every time. They fuse classic elements and modern style with inspirations of vintage fashion and a contemporary edge of glamour to create artistic, timeless images.