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Business of Wedding Photography

a guide by photo.net wedding photographers, November 2007

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Topic #6: Contracts

Jeff Ascough • Mary Ball • Bob Bernardo • Conrad Erb • Michael Mowery • Nadine Ohara • Josh Root • David Wegwart

The Business of Wedding Photography is an extensive subject, best answered by a team of professional wedding photographers, who also happen to be star photo.net members. In this article, these professional photographers have contributed advice and personal experience gained from running wedding businesses. Not only have they provided advice on specific items to include in a photographer's wedding contract, but they also included example wedding photographs of rings and bridal dresses. Whether you are just entering the field of wedding photography, or are a seasoned professional, the tips and insights shared here should be helpful with your own business.

We asked our panel of experts the following questions:

  1. What are some essential items to include in the contract, including clauses to protect you as a photographer?
  2. How and when do you present the contract to the bride and groom?
  3. Would you be willing to share a copy of a contract you use? (disclaimer: each state may be different and photographers should always contact a lawyer)

The wedding photographers contributing to the Business of Wedding Photography were not required to answer every question in the series. Thus, on this topic, some found only one or two questions to be most relevant to their wedding business.

Items to include in a wedding photographer's contract

What are some essential items to include in the contract, including clauses to protect you as a photographer?

David Wegwart: Exactly what you will provide, clearly spelled out. This includes who will be there to photograph the day; when the balance is due and how; how much time they have to get all printing done before prices increase; agreement to use an arbiter in the case there is a discrepancy; and a statement clarifying that the provision of an arbiter will not be used to gain 'freebies'. This also includes specifying storage of images and their need to keep their files current with changing technology; the stability of negatives and the need to store them correctly; provision of refreshments and (if over 4 hours) a meal on the wedding day; and a provision to refund a prorated amount of any part of the contract not being delivered by you. This list is only an outline of some of what I use.

Nadine Ohara: Model release, right as primary photographer, reprint rights, money due and when exactly what is provided.

Mary Ball: I found a company that did "form" photographer contracts. It was very simple but I expanded on it using it as a kind of template. I think you can find some on the Internet. We can't stress enough how important it is to pass your contract by a lawyer.

Michael Mowery: A statement establishing the fact that the files are exclusive property of the photographer with a copyright. State that you can use the files for web site, samples and publication. Get your money in advance before the wedding or at the time the proofs are delivered. I divide it into three payments. Some married couples have broken up and never ordered an album. Some couples just never order an album. Make sure your liability is just on money paid by the client and nothing more.

Conrad Erb: The basics: who, what, where, and when. How much are the extras if the couple needs you for another hour or two? Also important is a clause that says that you are the only hired photographer. Some sort of limitation of liability is a good idea in the event of things going crazy. I highly recommend the Business and Legal Forms for Photographers, and Wedding and Portrait Photographers' Legal Handbook.

Josh Root: State what you are providing, what you expect from the clients, what they can expect from you, your usage rights and restrictions, your delivery time window for the images, what happens if you cannot show up, what happens if the clients cancel the wedding, and when payment is due. Basically include all logistical information regarding the wedding (addresses, times, etc), and just about anything that you don't want to have to fight about later. If you do not put it in there, someone at some point will want to argue with you.

Jeff Ascough: Depends on your marketplace. Photographers dealing with a celebrity clientele will have a different contract to those working with the general public. A contract should clearly set out the terms of business between you and the client. The level of protection that you afford yourself will largely be determined by your level of experience and the marketplace you work in.

Presenting the contract to clients

How and when do you present the contract to the bride and groom?

David Wegwart: After they have selected me via email/phone call, I mail them the contract for their approval.

Bob Bernardo: We present the contract to the couple at the end of the first interview. We give them the contract to take with them and review it.

Nadine Ohara: I show an example of the contract at the first prospective meeting. I do not expect the clients to sign it immediately.

Michael Mowery: When they agree to hire me, not necessarily at the first meeting.

Conrad Erb: I actually go over the contract during the initial consultation. I use it as a sales tool and show how everything I promise is in writing. This gives them confidence that I'm honest and transparent, and that I'm willing to put things on paper.

Josh Root: When I meet with them the first time. If they want to sign and pay a deposit then, that is great. If not, they can take it with them and mail it back to me.

Jeff Ascough: Electronically when booking.

Contract examples

Would you be willing to share a copy of a contract you use? (disclaimer: each state may be different and photographers should always contact a lawyer)

David Wegwart: If emailed directly, yes, but not for public domain.

Bob Bernardo: I would not share a contract for a public domain even though a contract attorney wrote mine. The reasons are many. One line in our contract says we can use the photos for advertising. The issue is you can only use the bride and groom. They cannot sign the rights away for everyone, such as the ring bearer and flower girl. Therefore, contracts in a sense are useless. If you wish to use images of the kids or images of anyone present at the wedding you really need a model release.

Nadine Ohara: Same answer as previous two above.

Michael Mowery: Yes if emailed. It is a basic contract.

Conrad Erb: Yes, absolutely, with the caveat that it should only be used as a reference, and not used by anyone the way I have it.

Josh Root: I probably would not. At least not without the advice of a lawyer. With the liability in the US today, I would be worried that another photographer would sue me due to the contract not protecting them fully in some situation. That is probably more likely than a bride ever actually suing me for some reason, knock on wood...

Jeff Ascough: No chance.

Next Topic #7: Organization on the Job


Text contributed by: Jeff Ascough, Mary Ball, Bob Bernardo, Conrad Erb, Michael Mowery, Nadine Ohara, Josh Root, David Wegwart, ©2007. Edited by Hannah Thiem. All photos are copyright the photographer, and may not be used without written permission.

Article created November 2007

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Hannah Thiem , January 25, 2008; 02:09 P.M.

These are just a few opinions on a very broad topic of the business of wedding photography. We appreciate any comments, additional insight, and your opinions.

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