Making everyone sign a contract was a lesson I learned the hard way. No, I didn’t end up in a courtroom battling out a lawsuit, but I did find myself in an uncomfortable position because communication was muddied and expectations weren’t properly set. As a result, I found myself bitterly bending over farther back than I wanted to and eliminating one person from my circle of friends.
Three Reasons Why Every Photographer Should Use Contracts
1. It Sets Expectations
It’s always best to be clear about expectations, what services will be rendered, what the client/subject gets in return, how the images will be used and to what extent, etc. Using a contract or a written agreement for all shoots paid or not, is highly advisable.
On the subject of free shoots: I like to attach to the contract or notate somewhere within the agreement the list of services being rendered along with their value. This goes for all my friends and family as well. By doing this the following concerns are eliminated:
• Will the client understand the value of my work?
• I don’t want to feel used.
• Will they expect more than I am willing to give for free?
2. It Educates Clients On Terms
We, of the photography community, are well versed in the code of ethics that apply to our work. The average person has no clue that they shouldn’t cut out the watermark or apply that oh-so-awesome Instagram-like post processing to our image. The contract can define those terms or at least provide you with a starting point for that discussion.
3. It Protects the Client-Vendor Relationship
I once invited a lawyer to come speak to my local photography community regarding contracts and how to write them and one of the first things he said was that contracts were more than just protection from lawsuits. We are in a service oriented industry and contracts set expectations clearly (if clients would take the time to read them). Upholding the letter of the contract is an option that vendors can exercise, but we have to measure the pros and cons of said action.
Take for example a situation where a client does not want certain images blogged. A good photographer’s contract should state very clearly that copyrights are owned by the photographer and a photographer can use the images for marketing mediums like blogs. Can the photographer in this example tell the client that they really have no say in the matter if the contract was signed? YES. But before being bullish about it, I would find out what the concern is and work with the client for alternative options. Referrals and future jobs are more important to me that upholding that particular section of my contract. I would point out, of course, that the contract allows me to exercise my rights BUT, I would be willing to compromise in the name of good will. I love sounding like a hero.
Where Do I Go From Here?
The problem most creatives encounter once they realize that they need contracts is knowing what contracts they need, what it should contain and whether or not the verbiage is legal and binding. That last part is probably the most challenging since you can find a lot of forums with information on the other two. Enter my recent find: The Law Tog.
In the past, I’ve had issues trying to find vendors like lawyers, accountants, business coaches that understand the nuances of photography and so I spent a lot of time getting my consultants up to date on my needs. Rachel Brenke is a photographer with a law degree. She runs the business consulting firm, The Law Tog, geared specifically towards photographers. Can you say perfect combination for all of us on a hunt for answers? I recently checked out her portrait bundle set that comes with the following documents:
• General Model Release
• Independent Contractor
• Minor Model Release
• Permission To Sell Photographs to Third Parties
• Print Release
• Product Delivery Agreement
• Portrait Photography Contract
Three Really Great Things About The Documents
- They are flexible – the documents give you suggested verbiage and options to use based on your business model
- Fill in the blanks – the form has areas to help you define a complete set of terms. It forces you to really consider how to handle the exceptions like late payments, cancellations, product turn times and expedite fees. There’s a great list of items that a new photographer may not have encountered yet (or even thought of), but a seasoned photographer would know to protect against.
- They are Current – Most forms found online may not go into detail about digital file handling and social media but these forms have specific sections covering those areas.
The bundle is currently on sale for $319. Buy the whole set or find what you need in her extensive inventory of documents and purchase a la carte.
Rachel is also a mom to 4 kids, on top of being a lawyer, a photographer and a writer. We’ve reviewed her book, The Laundry List: A Mom’s Guide to Running a Successful Business and Home, and she’s on CreativeLive this week! She’ll be chatting about Balancing Work, Family and Photography. Here are the details and how to RSVP:
Balancing Work, Family, and Photography with Rachel Brenke
Date : April 10 – 11, 2014
Time: 9 AM to 4 PM Pacific
Don’t miss out on this free live event by RSVPing HERE.
Even if you decide not to invest in this set, you should definitely invest the time to work on your contracts. Don’t let the excuse of not knowing what to write hold you back from peace of mind and a smooth sailing professional relationship with your clients.