Contracts? We don’t need no stinkin’ Contracts!

September 24, 2009

When dealing with a commercial photographer,  there will almost always be some sort of agreement you must sign. Sometimes, it might be just a few lines while other times, it might be a multi-page document. To be clear, the contract is not there to protect the photographer. It is there so that everyone knows what the ground rules are and what to expect! It is impossible for an agreement to cover every possible situation that could come up, but a detailed one will cover the most common ones.

Wedding Photography is the area where you are most likely to encounter a contract.  It is not surprising since this is probably the biggest investment a couple will make in photography. Not to mention that there rarely is a makeover.  In our case, the wedding photo agreement is 5 pages!

The first page contains the basic details: name and contact info for the couple and their parents, the event information (Ceremony and Reception venue), a list of key players (wedding coordinator, location manager, officiator, etc…) as well as cell phone number of two contact persons on the day of the wedding, should something need to be clarified. The couple will be busy enough! They don’t need to be bothered by things like tracking down Uncle Vern for the family photo.

The second page contains the costs and details of the photography package purchased. Any travel costs incurred, taxes, when the payment must be made, etc.. We then have 2 pages of clauses and the last page contains the signature block. Here are typical clauses you will find in photography agreements.

COPYRIGHT: You will typically find this in all photography agreements. In the US, any photographic image is copyrighted by the photographer who presses the shutter release. It’s the law. This means that the photographers controls who can have a copy of their image. It will typically say that you have the right to use the image for your personal enjoyment, but can’t make money off them.

PRODUCT DELIVERY: When will the final image be available?  You sometimes hear horror stories about couples not getting their images for a year or more. This makes it clear when you should expect to receive your photographs.

PAYMENT SCHEDULE: In wedding photography, you typically pay a retainer to the photographer to book the wedding date. Most photographers also insist on full payment before the wedding. This explains when payments should be received.

CANCELLATION: What happens if you cancel the agreement with the photographer? Most times, the photographer keeps the deposit, but sometimes if they can find another wedding for the same date, they might issue a refund.

EXHIBITION: Most photographers want the ability to use photographs they take on their web site, in their brochure, in sample books, etc… This might also cover entering photographic contests.

MODEL RELEASE: Some contract include a model release which in effect says that they can use pictures they take of you for any purpose they so choose.  This would include commercial use like Ads, Billboards, TV Spots or any other such thing.

FORCE MAJEURE: What happens if the photographer breaks a leg?  There are riots in the street?  A hurricane is coming to town?  In these cases, most contracts provide for a full refund.

SATISFACTION GUARANTEE: A few contracts provide for the eventuality that if you don’t like any of the photographs taken, you might be entitled to a refund or a reshoot. These are few and far between, but certainly can provide peace of mind.

There are many other elements that could be present in an agreement. In any case, your photographer should explain all of them clearly and to your satisfaction.  You could even have your own lawyer review the agreement if you were so inclined.  I don’t think any serious photographer would object.

At the end of the day, regardless of the type or length of the contract, you should be comfortable with the photographer as a person. They will be around you for hours on end! You want someone you get along with and that will treat you with respect.

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