By Kelly Benton on | No Comments
Nobody likes to talk about contracts, but they’re a necessary part of running a photography business. And even if you do not consider yourself a “professional” quite yet… you should still have every client sign a contract to protect yourself and to have everything in writing.
Wedding photography contracts are a whole different beast. You are relying on one little document to protect you, should something happen and your client blames you for ruining the most important day of their life. Yikes!!
My first piece of advice is to talk to a lawyer! They will help make sure you are covered from a liability standpoint. But as great as they are, lawyers are not photographers. So you will have to help them out when it comes to all the other stuff that needs to be covered in your contract.
Here are a few things you should make sure are included in your wedding photography contract:
I think everyone’s had this happen at one point or another. You meet with a couple for a wedding consultation, and they decide to book you on the spot… but they can’t pay their retainer. Maybe they forgot their checkbook, or maybe they just do not have the money to pay right now. Either way, this happens a lot.
But how long will you wait for the money? Is your contract still binding if they do not pay? If so, are you willing to go to small claims court to make them pay up?
What I do: After this happened to me a few times, I decided to enact a “2 week rule”. In my wedding contract, it states that the agreement is not binding until the retainer is paid. If the retainer is not paid within two weeks, the contract becomes void and the date is released to other couples. This puts a little fire under them to pay the retainer and it puts me at ease because I know the plan.
Nobody likes to think about a potential emergency situation that would prevent you from fulfilling your duties as wedding photographer, but it can happen to anyone. Do you have a plan if that day arrives?
What I do: My wedding contract states that if something were to happen where I know ahead of time that I will not be able to photograph a wedding, I will work to find the best replacement photographer possible. If there is not enough time for that, then my second shooter will become the first shooter, and I will do my best to procure a new second shooter.
I always tell my clients when we are reviewing their contract that I will be at their wedding unless it is a true emergency (i.e. I am deathly ill, broken both my arms, etc.). It makes them feel better knowing a lousy cold will not stop me from photographing their wedding.
It is sad to think about, but these things do happen. And as much as it sucks for your couple to worry about paying you at a time like this, it is unfair for you to not receive compensation for the work you put in so far.
What I do: My wedding photography contract lays out a payment schedule that tells clients how much they owe when they cancel or postpone a certain number of months out from the wedding. Obviously, the closer we get to their wedding date, the more money they owe me because it is less likely I can fill that date with a new couple. This also covers me in case my couple decides to book a different photographer at the last minute and no longer wants my services.
It seems silly, but food is serious business to me. If I go too long without eating, I get shaky and light-headed… not the type of person you want shooting the most important day of your life. Yes, I bring my own emergency snacks to every wedding, but having a few minutes to sit down and eat a real meal can really refresh you for the rest of the evening.
What I do:I request that for any wedding photography coverage longer than 5 hours, my second shooter and I must be fed a meal. I tell my clients that it’s best for us to be fed immediately after the Bride and Groom so we are done eating around the same time. There is no time limit for this meal, because I always have my camera by my side, ready to go… but couples typically do not want photos of themselves stuffing their mouths.
Some couples are super on-top of things and want to get their album designed, approved, and in their hands as quickly as possible. Others… not so much. What do you do when your couple does not approve their album in a timely manner?
What I do: I understand that not everyone is as organized as others. For that reason, I give my couples a generous grace period where they can take their time, settle into their new life, look through their album design a hundred times if they need to, and get back to me when they’re good and ready.
That said, after 12 months, they pay an archive fee (because holding onto that many photos and keeping that album design active is not free!). After 18 months, our contract is considered complete, and I am under no further obligation to the couple. It may seem harsh… but I do not want to be tracking down clients and revising albums that are over 2 years old.
As much as we want to think our timeline is flawless and our clients are punctual, wedding days are notoriously hard to predict. So what happens if your designated hours are up, but the couple still hasn’t had their first dance or their grand exit (which they reeeally wanted you to photograph)?
What I do: My wedding photography contract states if the day is running a little bit behind, I have no problem staying up to 30 minutes late to catch the last bit of “action”. After that, I will find the Bride and Groom and ask them if they would like me to stay longer. If they say yes, they will be charged an hourly overage fee, which must be paid before they receive their digital files or album. Giving "a little" leeway makes you seem flexible and understanding, without letting them walk all over you.
I hope these contract tips were helpful (and that you are looking through your own wedding photography contract right now)! Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, so do your own research and consult with one while drafting or revising your contract.
If you can't afford to hire someone to draft a wedding contract for you? Then write it yourself, and just pay them to proofread it and make suggestions. Even better, you might be able to trade photography services for their lawyering skills - you never know until you ask!
Do you have any questions or comments about Photography Contracts? Leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!
Kelly Benton lives with her husband and two adorable dachshunds in Northeast Indiana, where she works from home as a Wedding Photographer. When she’s not photographing over people’s love, she’s a wannabe-rockstar triathlete with a penchant for funny movies and craft beer.