In my long and diverse history of creative gigs over the past decade, one of my jobs was serving as a wedding photographer. During that stint, I learned a lot about working with clients, staging images, getting the lighting just right, etc. And one of the most critical things I learned early on was the importance of having a strong wedding photography contract.
To help you avoid the perils and pitfalls I faced, we’ll explore why a wedding photography contract is essential, and the things you should consider including in your contracts before saying “I do!” to a career in wedding photography.
Why you NEED a wedding photography contract
Unfortunately, verbal agreements don’t hold up in court. Of course, no one (on either side) would want this outcome, but it’s a possibility every photographer should safeguard against. Having a piece of paper that dictates terms you and your client both agree to can be the difference between you continuing work as a wedding photographer and having to switch niches (or even careers).
A wedding photography contract is a great way to protect yourself and your clients, as well as ensure everyone knows exactly what to expect out of your working relationship.
Having a contract also shows your clients you’re a professional, and you understand the importance of ensuring things run as smoothly as possible. A contract gives everyone involved better peace of mind.
10 wedding photography contract essentials
Here’s a quick list of the basics to include in your wedding photography contract; we’ll explore them in more detail below.
Basic information of both parties.
Hours of work.
Terms of payment.
Deliverables agreed to.
Image rights for both parties.
Policies regarding other photographers.
Failure to comply clause.
Cancellation and refund policy.
Note: While this article gives suggestions for what to include in your wedding photography contract, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the disclaimer that it never hurts to run your contract by an attorney. An attorney can help ensure that you have included everything you need and that you’re using appropriate legal terminology so you have all your bases covered.
1. Basic information of both parties
Believe it or not, I allowed this to bite me a few times. I only had the contact info of the bride for one wedding, and only the contact info of the couple’s parents for another. Obviously, this is BAD. You need all relevant information so you’re not standing in the rain outside a venue desperately trying to reach someone, anyone, to open the door for you to bring in your camera and equipment.
The photographer should include:
- Their name
- Their business name
- Business address
- Email address
- Phone number (mobile and office line if you have both)
The client should include:
- The name of the bride
- The name of the groom
- Email address AND phone numbers for both bride and groom
- Email address and phone numbers of anyone involved in the wedding they think you might need to be in touch with
I also recommend you include a space for the email, address and phone number for the wedding venue, reception site and any other vendors involved in the wedding. This can help you with multiple elements, like networking after the wedding is over. Referrals are everything!
2. Hours of work
I can’t over-stress the importance of getting this in writing. You need to include a firm starting and ending time that is agreed upon by both the clients and the wedding photographer. It should be written explicitly so there is no room for confusion or misunderstanding.
That’s why it’s so critical you have it in writing that you’re done at the time the contract states. Trust me: Not including this can cause you so much headache.
You should also include the specific amount of money you need for every hour the client wants you to stay past your firm exit time. If they do decide to keep you around for additional time, you want them to know the amount they will be invoiced for so there won’t be questions later.
Include the total cost for everything related to the event. In some cases, it helps to break down the costs by line item so the client understands what they’re really paying for.
It might be beneficial to write à la carte pricing into your contract should the client decide they want additional items (i.e., extra photos or another album) after they have already paid for everything.
I recommend including a notice in your contract about how long after the wedding your clients can contact you for additional photos.
If you’re shooting a high volume of images, you might not want to keep thousands of wedding photos for years at a time. If you plan to delete images from your server, state in your contract when this will occur.
Alternatively (to earn more money), you could email the client before deletion and ask if they would like a digital backup of the photos for themselves. You could also pitch additional images for sale and/or things like anniversary photos and any other photography sessions you offer at this time.
4. Terms of payment
To avoid stress and having problems when it comes to the payment time, it’s important to have your payment terms in writing, including:
- How much the client owes
- Deadlines for expected payments
- Payment forms accepted, and how they can make them
- Policy for non-payment and policy for bounced checks and insufficient funds
I recommend a 25-percent non-refundable deposit at the booking date, 50 percent halfway to the wedding, and 25 percent the week of the wedding. I’ve learned not to expect any of the money on the wedding date. I always tried to make sure all payments were made in full before then, because it’s far too awkward (and too much hassle) asking for money at the wedding.
5. Deliverables agreed to
Your wedding photography contract must include what the client is paying for and what they can expect to receive in hand for this payment. Are prints included? What about a digital copy of the images? Are all of the images included, just the best shots, or does the client get to pick 500 or 1,000 images from your files?
You wouldn’t believe how many people will come back and ask for additional items they were certain they paid for, only to find they did not actually pay for them. Having it in writing can save you time, money and hassle.
6. Delivery dates
In the age of social media, we expect images from events we attend to be available the same day or the day after. The difference is, wedding photographs take much more time to process than those snapped on a smartphone. This is why having delivery dates stated in the wedding photography contract is so critical.
Sure, you will edit them, but you need to tell your client how much editing they can expect. This also sometimes eases their anxiousness over why it’s taking so long to receive the images.
Finally, write in the contract how they will receive their deliverables. If it’s digital files, will they be emailed as a zip file for the client to download, or will the images be placed on a thumb drive and mailed to their home? Will the prints be sent via FedEx or UPS and require someone to be at home to sign for the package? All of these specifics are important to consider and explain in writing so you don’t get a call at 3 a.m. asking where the wedding photos are.
7. Image rights for both parties
To avoid legal issues with the misuse of client photos, include the rights of the images as agreed to by both parties. For example, I had a client who wanted to include their wedding photos in a magazine article. I had to agree to their use and explicitly state how I wanted the photo credit to appear in the magazine.
You also need written consent from your clients to use their images in future advertising for your photography company. Some people simply don’t want their likeness used as a selling tool, and you must respect that.
Can your clients share the images on social media without photo credit? Most photographers will say yes, but it doesn’t hurt to state the image use rights anyway.
8. Policies regarding other photographers
For some reason, at weddings everyone becomes a wedding photographer. They all bring their smartphones and fancy cameras and do all they can to get the shot you’re getting paid to take. I’ve had people completely block my view, even when I tried to move them, and missed critical shots that forced me to restage images before.
You could make a policy that no one else can take pictures during the ceremony. However, that can feel too awkward for some people. To avoid friction, discuss this issue thoroughly with your client ahead of time, and write in your contract how you would like to handle it on the day of the ceremony and/or reception.
9. Failure to comply clause
Let’s say the unexpected happens, and for some reason you can’t shoot the wedding you were contracted to shoot. What is your backup policy in this unfortunate event? This clause will help you protect yourself from legal issues up to and including getting sued and losing your business, if not being asked to fork out thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve heard of this happening to other photographers, so don’t think it can’t happen to you!
You could state in your contract that if an act of your making prevents you from carrying out the agreement, you will refund 100 percent of the money, but you will not claim further liability beyond that. Or, you could state that you will have an emergency backup photographer. Whatever you wish to have as your policy, write it in the wedding photography contract, and be prepared to stick to it.
10. Cancellation and refund policy
It’s sad, but true. Some planned weddings simply don’t make it to their wedding date. This is why you need to have it in writing what will happen in the event the wedding gets cancelled or rescheduled. Will you simply withhold their deposit? Will you offer them another date if you’re available? What about other funds they’ve paid? Will you refund those?
By stating this in the wedding photography contract, you’re not just protecting yourself. You also give your clients the peace of mind that if anything happens that prevents the wedding on the date agreed to, they’ll know precisely what it will cost them.
More resources to help you write a wedding photography contract
I want to reiterate that there might be additional items not listed in this article that you might want to include, and that this list is certainly not the last word in writing a wedding photography contract. In fact, here are some fabulous wedding photography contract templates that could help you come up with what to add to your own:
- 5 best free wedding photography contract templates
- A simple, fair, and free-to-use wedding photography contract
- Free photography contract written by a lawyer
- 12 free photography proposal and contract templates (for agencies and freelancers)
And now that you’re prepared to tackle the business of wedding photography, make sure you’ve got a site to display your portfolio and encourage couples to seek out your services. Happy shooting!
Also published on Medium.