Lately I have been getting e-mails with photography related questions, and I am thinking of designating Thursday’s as a day to answer! If you have a question you would like me to answer, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
I love your photos and am thinking of taking on my first wedding this summer. Can you share what I should include in my contract with the couple? I don’t want to scare them off with something so formal, and I don’t even know what I need to have in it! Any tips would be great! Thanks! -Alex
This is an excellent question, and truth be told I still continue to tweak my contract as situations arise. Your contract should be something you always review every few months to ensure it is meeting your needs and your clients as well as protecting both parties. I would highly suggest meeting with a lawyer in your state, as every state has unique laws that could make portions of your contract void or irrelevant. Let’s talk about a good base for what you should be including though….
It’s always best to list the basic (and most important) information at the beginning. I include: wedding date, location, agreed upon shoot times, package (if you offer packages– include what exactly is included here, don’t just say “Diamond Package” because no one knows what that means) and any other shoot times agreed upon (i.e. engagement session, boudoir session). Your focus should be to include every time you will be working for your client– when, where and how long. Next I include a portion for Bride and Groom’s name, addresses, phone numbers and other contact info. I always keep this information in other places, but I like having it on my contracts as well. Next, you need to list the fee agreed upon, indicate if a retainer or deposit was paid. Speaking of, a deposit can technically be refunded, while a retainer is monies (I love saying monies, it’s so silly) you can keep even if your services are cancelled. The difference here is that a retainer is your fee for reserving the wedding day, while a deposit indicates payment towards services not yet rendered. This is why you should speak with a lawyer, because it can all come down to the way you phrase things!
The Nitty Gritty
Next comes all the boring stuff that no one actually reads through. My contract is three pages long and I advise that my clients read through all of it, but knowing they most likely won’t I always go through the points with them during our consultation. I have heard so many photographers have issues with clients after wedding day because they weren’t clear about their services or what was included in their contracts. Please don’t be the person that wants to book someone so badly that you leave out the fact that they have to pay thousands of dollars for their digitals after the fact, or something crazy like that. Be honest and transparent about everything and it will save you a potentially large and costly headache later! But back to the contract… here are some main points I cover in this portion of my contract. This is where your contract is flexible to YOU, so you can decide what you want to include here:
-Statement that contract supersedes all other conversations, e-mails, agreements and the only way to change or amend the contract would be to do so in writing
-Statement that Retainer is Non-Refundable
-Final Payment: Clear Indicator of when the final wedding payment is due (for me that is 10 business days prior to the event).
-Consultation: That the client agrees to a pre-event consult and will provide me with family names, list of photos and review of timeline. This covers MY butt because I don’t want to be held responsible if a client only allots 30 minutes for all bridal party photos. I work closely with my bride to create a timeline that will work for both of us and if not, its out of my hands. I also include a few sentences saying I am not responsible for not photographing desired people if they do not clearly indicate that prior to wedding day. You don’t want to be in trouble for not getting a picture of third-cousin-Marty-from-Florida so be sure your clients know that unless they tell you, or designate someone to wrangle the extended family crowd during wedding day, that you will not be responsible for that.
-Cooperation Clause: I added this after a particularly drunk groom refused to take one.more.photo. after five minutes of shooting. Of course, after the wedding the bride was sad that they didn’t have more photos of just them. Thankfully she understood it wasn’t my fault but it made me think that if someone wanted to hold me responsible for their unwilling behavior (let’s just all think about some bridal parties we have had. There is always that ONE guy that wants to be hilarious and not focus for one second) then I wasn’t protected. This also protects the clients because it clearly communicates that they need to to let anyone involved in photos know they need to be prompt when they are up for pictures, and be cooperative while having fun.
-House Rules: Sometimes you get to a church and the coordinator kindly tells you they don’t allow flash. Usually this type of church has no windows, red carpet and yellow walls. Also they tell you that you can only shoot from the last row of the balcony. Awesome. This is where you need to communicate with your client that you are limited by the rules of the venue. I always urge my bride and groom to ask about this before they book– or as soon as they can after because if rules are too strict, they might want to think about going another route.
-Digital Negatives, Prints and Copyrights: I indicate here that I retain the copyrights to all photos and that the client receives a print release to share photos with friends and family. I also indicate that written permission must be obtained from me to submit any photos for publication or sale for profit.
-Model Release: You want to make sure you can use the photos for marketing, your website, etc. There have been a few times I have made an exception for this, but in general you want to make sure your clients are okay with this.
-Guest Photography: I explain in no uncertain terms that I am the ONLY hired photographer for the day. I also make it very clear that no one else will be shooting during formal photography time unless they are on my team. I state that if I show up and there is another photographer, OR they have an overly aggressive hobbyist uncle that I will cease shooting until the other cameras are put away or leave altogether. I explain my reasons for this (i.e. when there is more than one camera it is hard for your subjects to focus where they need to be looking, or take direction from you). This might be the hardest to enforce during family or extended family photos. I have found that explaining to everyone who is gathered before we begin that I will take MY photo then allow anyone else to snap a few after between each grouping works really well. They all understand that I am going to allow them some time to take their photos so they are 100% cooperative to put down their point and shoots while I am trying to get everyone to focus in my direction. In this way, you’re working for yourself and your clients by protecting everyone and ensuring you get the photos that you’ve been hired to get, while allowing family and guests to enjoy such a special day too.
-Guest Cooperation: I added this and explain that if I am being made to feel uncomfortable, harassed or unsafe by any guest I reserve the right to leave if the client doesn’t rectify the situation or ask the guest to leave. Thankfully I am a pretty forceful gal when I have to be and I have avoided getting to this point but I DID have a drunk groomsmen try and take my camera from me once to take some photos which prompted me to add this clause.
The Final Details
Finally, you want to indicate your completion schedule (when will the couple get their photos), what they will receive (online gallery? USB? If you charge for prints, will they meet for a buying session?), penalties and fees (I charge $35 on all bounced checks, and late final payments incur a charge of $50/day). Here I also include a right of withdrawal (say, if the couple changes venues our contract is void and a new one would need to be signed). I also include limit of liability here (super important) that says if something happens and I cannot shoot the wedding, OR secure another photographer that my liability is limited to the return of any money paid towards the wedding, including the retainer. Limit of liability for a partial loss of images is to be pro-rated. You should also include a statement about adverse weather, war, acts of God and other craziness that would render you unable to travel and shoot a wedding.
Last, I always include Severability- that if any portion of the contract doesn’t stand under the law that it won’t render the entire agreement null and void. (Basically, if I added something that wouldn’t hold up in court, the client can’t say that the entire contract is a wash).
And then, get everyone to sign it! I ALWAYS have my bride AND groom sign. Not their parents, not their grandparents… honestly I could care less who is paying. I want my client to be the bride and groom, and my client is whomever signs my contract. In the past I tried working with bride, groom and the parents that were paying and it was a headache for everyone. The parents had different ideas and requests than the bride and groom and I was working overtime to accommodate everyone’s needs and wants. I learned that I want to be dealing directly with my couple, and only my couple and any other requests can be filtered through them. Last year alone I shot 30 weddings, which means I had 60 clients counting each bride and groom. Trust me, that is PLENTY of people to be in communication with throughout a year! SO make it a little less stressful on everyone and work directly with your couple!
I hope this has helped some of you at the very least think about how your contract should be protecting you AND your clients. I also hope that you review every portion and make it clear to your bride and groom. It will make wedding day SO easy and stress free for everyone! If there is anything I have missed, or something that I should have in my contract please let me know! I love to hear what you include in yours!
For more tips like this you can attend one of our workshops, The Bloom Workshop!