"Running a photography business is easy!” said no one, ever. From coming up with a business name, to getting a logo designed, to finding (and keeping!) the right clients, to learning to price your prints and products, all the way to marketing and growing sustainably, the work never seems to end.
It’s no wonder, then, that sometimes photographers overlook one of the most important needs of their business – CONTRACTS. Contracts feel overwhelming (“I don’t even know what to put in them!”) and they sound scary (“What if my client doesn’t want to sign and I lose business?!”) but they protect both you and your clients, and they’re a necessary part of running a healthy, profitable photography business.
Not sure where to start? Read on for our tips & tricks on crafting your first photographer contract.
Photography Contract Must-Haves
It’s a best practice to have a lawyer-drafted, lawyer-reviewed series of contracts for your business. After all, no one wants to be sued over a slight misunderstanding of how the law works in their state or in their particular business niche!
There are multiple places online to purchase ready-made photography contracts (see our list down below) but regardless of where you get yours from and before you start using them in your CloudSpot Studio, here are some non-negotiables.
Deliverables: What’s Included (and What’s NOT)
Your contract should specify exactly what the client should expect to receive before, during, and after their session or event with you. Chances are, if you’re photographing a wedding, you’ll take thousands of photos, but you won’t be handing all of those over to the happy couple two hours after the event. Set expectations early so there are no surprises!
Be sure your contract specifies things like…
- How long you’ll be physically taking photos at their session
- How many photos, files, or proofs are included
- What the turnaround time is for their online gallery, prints, and/or products
- What other costs or fees might be involved with editing, adding extra images, etc.
Copyright & Model Release: What’s Yours is Yours
In this day and age of social media, you may think it’s just expected that you’ll be plastering your family mini-session photos all over your Facebook and Instagram business accounts. The same goes for that client of yours – they may be assuming that they can take screenshots from your CloudSpot gallery and share them with all of their friends and family (after all, you are an awesome photographer!).
The way images get shared (and the inevitable frustration that happens when they get shared in the “wrong” way) can impact both parties, so it’s best to iron all of that out in your contract before the session.
Some things to consider:
- Are your clients OK with their images being used in marketing ads, on your Facebook page, in print ads in a local magazine, or in your IG stories? (A Model Release, which is a specific type of document that outlines exactly what you can and can’t use a client’s photos for after their session, is an excellent way to manage these expectations.)
- As the artist, you probably (should!) want full control over how your artwork is displayed (i.e. you don’t want to see that gorgeous fall photo with a hot pink overlay on it). It’s important that your contract includes copyright information so that clients understand you own full rights to the images you take and deliver, and that altering them is a no-no.
Illness, emergencies, and catastrophes happen all the time, and they can affect your clients AND you. A well-written photography contract will spell out what happens in cases where things don’t go as planned, and it will set you up for success if the unexpected happens.
- If you fall ill on photo day or a natural disaster strikes, will you provide a replacement photographer? Offer a full or partial refund? Reschedule within 90 days?
- What happens if a client needs to cancel? Are ‘all sales final’ or do you allow their deposit to be applied to a different date in the future?
Sometimes Overlooked (or Forgotten About)
Sometimes it might seem like it goes without saying, but in the world of legal protection, it’s always better to have it in writing. Here are some things you may want to include in your photographer contract just. in. case.
- Meal or break clause. You deserve to eat a full meal in peace, especially when you’re shooting that ten-hour wedding in the blistering heat! Ensure your contract specifies whose responsibility it is to ensure you’re fed and well-rested at big events.
- Disappointment. It’s bound to happen – someone isn’t going to love their photos as much as you do. What will you do then? If the photos you’ve taken are consistent with your style and what you advertised, but the client still isn’t happy, will you offer a partial refund? Re-edit or re-shoot? Be sure these options are clearly spelled out.
- Responsibility for expenses. Taking photos at that high-demand botanical garden isn’t cheap; who pays for the entrance fees and the pre-approved permits? Is it included in your sitting fee, or is it the client’s responsibility to secure them ahead of time? Who will pay your flight to the Bahamas for the secret engagement shoot, and who’s choosing the airline? Outline all of these details in your contract!
- Safety of photographer (and client). Some of us have been there – the family reunion where everyone enjoys themselves a little too much and that one distant cousin decides a WWF-style battle would be the most fun way to end the night, or the wedding where the bridesmaid is getting waaaaay too close. A clause like this outlines when it’s appropriate for the photographer to leave the event if they’re put in an unsafe position. (It also clearly defines how the client’s rights to safety are to be handled and what will be done if a client feels like they’re being asked to do something dangerous or inappropriate just for a great shot.)
Resources for Busy Photographers
Now that you know the incredible importance of having a photographer contract, we recommend you talk to a lawyer who can help you draft your own personal version. Looking to see what’s out there already tailor-made for photographers like you? Here are a few places to start:
The PPA (Professional Photographers of America) offers its members various photography contract templates, including print releases, cease & desist letters, and more.
Amy & Jordan’s contracts are lawyer-built and include lifetime updates, so if the law changes or the language gets adjusted, you’ll always have the most up-to-date versions.
The Legal Paige exists just to help you get legally legit, and she does so with a boatload of contract templates for all kinds of photographers and creatives.
Katelyn James has an in-depth collection that goes beyond just downloadable contracts and leans into a full-on education program for new photographers to help them master business ownership.
* Remember: CloudSpot is your favorite gallery provider and studio manager, but we cannot offer you legal advice. Always consult with a licensed attorney when making decisions for your business.