what should be in a wedding photography contract

What Should Be in A Wedding Photography Contract

When hiring a wedding vendor you should always, always, ALWAYS sign a contract.  But signing a piece of paper isn’t the whole story, you also need to know know what should be in a wedding photography contract if you want to protect yourself.

What is a contract?

A contract is a legally binding document between two parties that details an agreement regarding a job or service.  

A contract is there to protect not only the buyer (in this case, the couple) but to protect the seller (wedding vendor) too.  All reputable wedding vendors should have contracts; if at any point in time during your wedding planning you are told “there’s no need for a contract” I suggest you turn around and run away as quickly as possible!  But if you do have a wedding photography contract presented to you, you need to know what should be in a wedding photography contract to figure out if it’s really protecting you or not.

what should be in a wedding photography contract

How are contracts created?

Most wedding photographers don’t know what should be in a wedding photography contract so they have to work directly with a lawyer to have their contracts created. There are some resources online where you can purchase wedding photography contracts but I only recommend those when you’re in a pinch. Pre-made contracts may be too generic to offer full and clear protection for you and/or your client and they may also need revisions for verbiage based on what state or country you live in.

Photographers who are experienced and well-established as successful business owners will always ensure that they have a local lawyer review their contracts on a regular basis so that the document stays relevant and fair for both parties (this means give-and-take on both sides).

what should be in a wedding photography contract

What should be in a wedding photography contract?

There’s no real rule about what should be in a wedding photography contract – the contents will vary business to business. With that being said, though, there are some core foundations that you need to have in your contract. These foundations should be present in all contracts and if they aren’t, it’s a sign that the photographer has either created the contract themselves by piecing together bits and pieces from the internet (I call these ‘Franken-contracts’) or they bought a generic contract online and have failed to customize it. Either way, if you think components of a contract are missing, do not sign the contract before addressing the issue to learn more.

What should be in a wedding contract? Here are some of the key foundations:

  • Identification of the parties – This includes the names, addresses, and all contact information of the signing parties (bride and groom) as well as the vendor.  A note to soon-to-be-weds: if your contact information changes during the course of your wedding planning, always ensure you keep your vendors up-to-date!
  • Service Description. This includes the date and timeframe that the services are being provided on as well as any other relevant descriptions including package contents and location of services.
  • Retainer and Service Fees, including the payment schedule. The nitty gritty needs to be detailed when it comes to money. Having it in your invoice isn’t enough.
  • Turnaround time and method of delivery. Not all photographers will outline an exact turnaround time but at the bare minimum, there should be an acknowledgment that your images will be processed in the order that the events take place and the outline of how your images are delivered and who is responsible for backing up photos should be included.
  • Upgrading/Downgrading and Cost. Contracts cannot be negotiated after they are signed for but what happens if you want to change the contents of your package? An upgrades/downgrading clause is beneficial for the client as it can be a starting place for conversations about small changes and what that can entail while keeping the original contract valid.
  • Overtime and expenses (including permits) You can’t make assumptions about fees – whether it’s about photography permits, parking costs, or extended coverage fees, everything should be clearly outlined for you.
  • Third party payor rights. This is one of the things that a lot of photographers don’t include and it’s a huge sign that they have a cookie-cutter contract (which leaves you only partially protected, too!) Third-party payor rights is a formal acknowledgment that anybody can pay for your contracted services but it doesn’t make them a client. All decisions are still to be made by the person (or people) who signed the contract. If you think there’s even the slightest possibility of a family member wanting to take control of some of the planning via paying for your vendors (we all have drama, no judgement!) then you absolutely need to make sure this clause is here.
  • Exclusivity clause. Exclusivity means that you’re the only photographer who will be there with a mission to capture images. Your friends and family can take their own personal pictures all they want, but nobody else should be portfolio building or creating formal deliverables for you because it’s impossible for them to do that without getting in the way of the person you’re paying the money for! Sometimes it’s other vendors who start acting as video or photo members and it can really create a difficult environment to do your work in, so this clause is essential protection for clients.
  • Safe working environment clause. Every person deserves a safe working space regardless of what their job is – corporate, finance, medical, or photographer. Safe working clauses should outline the process the photographer will take with you if they feel something is not safe. (Nobody wants their photographer just randomly leaving claiming “unsafe circumstances” – there should be a process outlines for how to deal with this and that’s what this clause is for.
  • Cooperation clause + compromised coverage. This refers to the fact that the photographer will do their absolute best, but that sometimes things are totally beyond their control like a key person refusing to participate in any photos or vendors who are forced to sit outside of the main event room. This clause is an acknowledgment of these situations and opportunities for discussion.
  • Copyright, Personal Use + Model release (including crowd release). Copyright always stays with the person who creates the images. This is not unique to weddings, this is how media law works. Your contract should outline; however, what you have an unlimited personal use license and what they means as well as acknowledgment regarding various permissions.
  • Cancellation policies – Cancellation policies should come in 2 parts; cancellation by the photographer and cancellation by the client. Each section should include information about fees and responsibilities in either scenario.
  • Force Majeure – Used to protect the parties in the case that a portion or all of the services cannot be performed due to situations beyond the control of any of the parties – such as a natural disaster or a pandemic. A lot of photographers got caught with “Franken-contracts” in 2020 when COVID hit and countless photographers and couples were forced into having to deal with “frustrated contracts” because the contract lacked appropriate information to keep both parties safe.
  • It’s worth noting, force majeure means an unpredictable and unforeseen situation. Regarding COVID, after April of 2020 anyone entering a new contract with any vendor needs to understand that force majeure doesn’t apply to them. You can’t willingly enter a contract during a pandemic and then claim to be surprised if you’re affected by said pandemic.
  • Release, limitation of liability and indemnity, and general terms. This means things like severability, applicable law, counterparts, waivers and enurement. The TL;DR is that it’s a lot of legal mumbo jumbo that ensures that the contract is legally binding. If the contract doesn’t have all these components, that’s another red flag for you and you may want to rethink booking with that person.
what should be in a wedding photography contract

What happens if some of these sections are missing?

So what happens if there is no contract? It’s not a matter of not knowing what should be in a wedding photography contract – if there’s no damn contract at all, you have bigger problems! But what if some of these major foundational points are missing? Honestly – you need to reconsider whether or not you want to sign it. An incomplete contract, or worse – a “Franken-contract”, may not fully protect either the business or the clients. That’s a pretty big risk to take.

Can you ask for changes in your photography contract?

In general, contract terms are non-negotiable. Earlier in this article, we talked about how properly made contracts are always fair. There’s give-and-take on both sides.

From my experience as a wedding photographer for over 13 years, when clients ask for changes to contracts it’s because they want to amend something to be more in favor for them, rather than balanced. There’s a legal term for contracts that are not fair and well balanced: unconscionable contracts. And here’s the thing about unconscionable contracts – they’re typically not legally binding. This means that even if your photographer gives in and allows a change to some wording if they have second thoughts later on they can argue that the wording ultimately is unconscionable and therefore not binding.

Adding to that, any change to a contract means that the photographer’s lawyer has to review the proposed changes and create something custom. You can’t just take out sections or change sections without consulting with the proper experts. Adding or removing elements of a contract can create loopholes or grey areas where neither party is as fully protected anymore.

what should be in a wedding photography contract

What does signing a wedding photography contract mean?

Signing a wedding photography contract means that you fully and wholeheartedly agree to the terms in that contract. You cannot sign a contract with a vendor and then decide later on that you no longer agree to the terms and want to re-negotiate. That’s not how contracts work. Unfortunately, the wedding industry saw a lot of this during COVID and it caused a significant amount of stress and undue hardship for all people involved.

The moral of the story? Don’t sign anything if you’re not okay with what’s in it.

what should be in a wedding photography contract

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