Contracts… we all dread them. Or so I think (I know I do). So what’s the story with photography contracts? Why do I have to have them, how do I use them, and how the heck did I get started with them? Good question. When I first started the For Photographers Fridays posts, this was one of the first question and suggestions I got for a post topic. Of course, I was in the middle of revising and updating my contracts for Indiana use at the time, so it was all over my Instagram and fresh on everyone’s minds.
The short version of how I got started is this: I asked for support of my photographer friends, looked at sample photography contracts online, and went for it. This is NOTNOTNOT how I would advise you to do your contracts. NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST. You see, I wasn’t really in business yet… I really wasn’t in business officially until early 2013, but that certainly didn’t mean working regularly… that’s only happening as of this year. So using these quilt-contracts, as I like to call them (pieced together from an assortment of sample legal documents) seemed sufficient for me in the beginning. I was only working with family and friends and the contracts were more of a formal document that outlined expectations. I had no notion of ever needing to rely on these contracts. Bottom line: I DIDN’T TAKE MYSELF SERIOUSLY.
Embarrassing, but true. I still struggle to tell people “I’m a photographer”, but I’m getting better at it, and it is very much a reality now. This IS my job. This IS my primary source of income. So it’s time to take myself seriously. And I wouldn’t be honest if I sat here and told you I did it the right way, straight from the beginning and all along.
I’ve ALWAYS used contracts and still do. I use them for free sessions, donated sessions, and regular sessions. I use them for EVERYTHING. I cannot take your photograph if you haven’t completed a contract. It’s just business.
After moving back to the midwest and launching my business here in Indianapolis, I knew I had some contract work to do. A lot of it, actually. My first stop was Rachel Brenke’s The Law Tog Shop. After all, why would I trust anything other than a lawyer-turned-photographer contract template?? You can find anything on the internet, but that doesn’t make it true, real, or likely to hold up in court (knock on wood).
Like you, I hope to never have to use these documents in a court of law, but beyond that, photography contracts make it clear to my client’s what they should expect of me (and hold me accountable to) and let’s me know what my clients are seeking in return. It’s a clear and concise way to make sure we are all on the same page.
“Ok, so now I’ve got Rachel’s contract template… now what?”
Now comes time for you to personalize it. Rachel includes several options for you to choose from, as well as input your own pieces into it. You can add a logo or header, footer, and reformat to your heart’s content. One of the things I’ve included in my contract is a page of two for client information. I find it easiest to have all of this information embedded into the contract instead of as a separate document to keep track of.
This is just a sample of things I include on my portrait contracts – it’s convenient to have the client’s information right at the top of the document on the first page. I also allow all of my clients to choose whether or not they’re interested in sneak peeks and teasers… SEPARATE from their model release! Of course, in order to have these options, they must also sign the model release, but there are always unique situations:
- Client’s are using the images as a gift and don’t want the images revealed before the gift has been delivered. These clients do NOT want sneak peeks and teasers, but sign off on the model release for the images to be used after the gift has been delivered.
- The Client doesn’t have social media accounts. They are indifferent.
- The Client does not want images shared on social media for personal or professional reasons (most likely because these images are more easily tied back to the identity of the subject of the image) but are comfortable with the images being used anonymously for website sharing and portfolio use.
Allowing the Client to tell me what they want helps me gauge their level of excitement in showcasing and sharing their images. It gives them control over what happens to images of them – something people tend to appreciate. The reality? 99% of my clients WANT their images shared – they want the immediate gratification of seeing these previews! I would never want to blindside a client by posting their images online without them being aware of this feature, and I always take care not to assume people know this about my business.
A new feature I’m adding for 2015 is the option for Client’s to choose whether or not their PASS gallery (YES! I use PASS! It’s AMAZING!) is public or private. In the past, I’ve automatically made all galleries private and chosen a password for the client. This year, Client’s will be able to choose what they want and even specify their own password! Either way, the galleries are always shareable with friends and family… and even can be viewed on the app!
All pages of my photography contracts have the header you see above, but customized. It helps identify the contracts both to me and my clients. Additionally, they have a footer at the bottom with my contact info for easy use.
Where am I at on all these contract revisions now? Well, I’m done…. with my revisions. I’m in the process of scheduling a review with a small business attorney local to me. I need to do this because Rachel’s templates are just that…. templates. They’re intended to get you started, help you customize, and save you time and money in working with a lawyer. I’ve spent hours (and hours and hours and hours) customizing them to fit my brand (as you can see in the previews above) and now it’s time for me to finalize them. I have current documents that have been turned into forms (I use Adobe Acrobat Pro – I just get a Single App Month-to-Month subscription when I need it) and I email them out to my clients for easy digital completion with Adobe Reader (free!) and email back to me. I keep everything digital.
What comes next? Once I receive the final versions back from the attorney, I’m looking to potentially embed these documents into my website so that when a client books, they can simply access the forms through my website, cutting down on emailing that we do… it can be time consuming. This is a longer-term goal for me, though, as my current system works and is personalized to the Client… which I like.
Always remember: I’m not an attorney and nothing listed in this post can or should be taken as legal advice, I’m simply sharing my experience as a fellow photographer and providing clarity to my clients. So what questions do you still have? Leave them below in the comments and I’ll answer back to you!
casey and her camera is an Indianapolis Family Photographer specializing in family, couple, lifestyle, senior, and wedding photography for Indianapolis, Indiana and the surrounding areas.