Do I Really Need to Send Out Contracts?!

Usually when you say things three times in a row, its sticks better. So lets try this, CONTRACTS…CONTRACTS…CONTRACTS!

If you are a photographer and are shooting ANYTHING for ANYONE without a contract STOP!

Contracts are so important…and 100% NECESSARY!

In fact, they are SO important, that I make my friends and extended family sign them, too. Sure…it feels silly. Weird. Maybe even wrong to ask,but its a matter of life and death! (Well, in terms of the future and existence of your business it is.)

I have seen it happen far too many times: Photographer is asked by best friend “A” to take her son’s pictures. She pays the photographer, photographer gives back images, best friend “A” is not happy with them, wants money back, photographer is in awkward spot. Bring on the DRAMA! Then sadly, friendships and relationships start to fall apart. Drastic example, sure. But these kind of things really do and really have happened.

A CONTRACT IS THE ONLY WAY YOU HAVE TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR GROWING BUSINESS.

They are a written, iron clad document, that if needed, could be used and admissible in a court of law as proof of consent to not only take the images, but post them, print them, etc.

Also, contracts actually help your business grow and maintain success over long periods of time. They keep your business clean, professional, and ultimately documented/organized.

I feel this question burning in some of your minds, so lets just address it now:

“But Kaitlin, they are so boring, confusing, and just down right irrirating to keep up with/produce. How do I even know where to start and what to include?”

Ok, first off, getting a contract made can be expensive, but if you simply consult a lawyer on the elements your contract needs to include versus having them draw up one for you, you are looking at maybe a small consultation fee. It may also be worth it to you to find a template online, or purchase a pre-drawn contract for your state/industry online.

If you decide to draw one up yourself, there are some very important elements you NEED to make sure you include. One being, CANCELLATION OF SERVICES or a REFUND FOR SERVICES OR DEPOSIT. A contract is a promise. A bond. A written “word” between you and your client. You need to cover your bases by stating EXACTLY what happens if and when a session has to be moved due to illness, weather, schedule conflict, etc. Your contract also needs to specifically state HOW a refund will be given if monies have already been issued. Monetary return or a gift certificate to your business or better yet, NO REFUNDS! Going back to cancellations, PLEASE be sure to specify how LONG a client has to cancel or reschedule before a fee is imposed or before a refund is no longer allowed to be issued.

***Think about whether or not you want to charge fees for late payments, what you want to do about no call/ no show, and how you want to handle wording in regards to refunds due to dissatisfaction with final images.

Another issue your contract needs to cover is PRICING!

Lordy me! When you shoot a session and you quote a client on that session fee, product fees, taxes, and so on, THAT NUMBER needs to be explicitly typed in that contract. This proves that, that amount was agreed upon by both the photographer and the client. This prevents the clients that says “I thought you said it was this much….you over charged us…etc.”

You also need to specify how you are charging. For example, “Your portrait session for August 10, 2014 is scheduled for 1 hour in length. The hourly rate for the photography session is $xxx/per hour. Client agrees to pay said amount for the one hour of photography service.” Something along those lines is great!

Again, be sure to go over late payments, payment plans, fees for bounced checks, hidden costs (tax, shipping/handling) and accepted methods of payments (and any fees associated with that).

Third…now this is a big one because it is also the most easy to get tripped up on…especially in todays social media platforms. YOU NEED TO ADDRESS ADVERTISING, MARKETING, AND USE/ RIGHTS TO AND OF IMAGES BOTH IN AN ONLINE OR PRINTED MEDIA FORMAT!!!!

Your contract serves as a model release. You need to explicitly state to your clients that you are the owner of the images. You have the rights to use them on all your social media platforms such as Facebook, your business website, blog, etc. You need to tell your clients in WRITING  if you plan to ever use them in printed media for publication, commercials, billboards, etc. You also need to include RULES AND GUIDELINES they must abide by when posting the images they receive from you, whether its from PASS, Pictage, SmugMug or off of their DVD/USB. Remind them that it is illegal for them to sell your images, pass them off as their own, and especially, re-edit them.

It seems obvious to us but to many others, it’s not. It is OUR JOB as professionals to educate them on proper photo etiquette in the digital photography world via a very detailed and well structured contract.

Lastly, and by no means is that ALLLLLL you should have in a contract…but it is an excellent place to start….you need to have an area where it provides adequate information to contact you, a line for them and the second party to sign and print both their names and the date and an ADDITIONAL line if the party is under 18 in which case they need an adult to consent to their images being taken and used where ever you may specify.

We are in a crazy, digital, and very public way of life these days y’all. We photographers need to cover our bases alwaysssss! First and foremost, if you want your business to last and grow, you have to put aside the awkwardness of asking for the Hancock before any services are rendered. Trust me, I have some horror stories I could share with y’all from before I had a contract, and now how things are handled when issues arise now that an official and legal contract exists NOW! : )

So, folks…..CONTRACTS ARE A MUST! They are without a doubt a serious matter, a professional part of this business, and a legal aspect of this industry that simply can not be overlooked. TRUST ME!

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