The importance of a photography contract

If you are (planning on becoming) a professional photographer, it might be worth considering a photography contract. It’s only a piece of paper. Just one that can save your ass when in need.

The advantages of a photography contract

A contract might seem like a bit of a hassle. Making sure everything is correct, sending it to the client, and having a signed copy back. Urgh, why go through all of this?

First of all, a contract will make you look professional. It will show the client you are serious and that you take their shoot seriously.

Next, it will help you in case something goes wrong or an argument happens. You have everything on paper. A big advantage for your photography business.

Lastly, it informs the client. You can have information about the shoot, delivery of the photos, potential extra costs, … all in there. This will make the shoot go more smoothly as everyone knows what’s happening and expected.

It’s comforting for your clients to have one too. It might seem it would be the other way around, but it isn’t. Many businesses and people invest time and money outside of the shoot for the shoot. Having a contract with you assures them you will actually show up and do the work.

I know it’s silly, but having a contract makes you look like you know what you are doing.

How to get a photography contact

There are plenty of options to get one. Though, some are probably better than other.

You can type ‘photography contract’ in Google and find a handful of free templates. And they are pretty useful. Though the accents might be different for you and the laws might be mismatched with your local laws.

So though it’s a good starting point, it’s probably not the best option.

The next option is buying a template. Usually, this provides some type of personalization that is related to your area. But even here, the laws might be slightly more nuanced.

The last option, which I can recommend, is hiring an attorney. Yes, it’s the most expensive option of all, but it’s actually affordable. I paid less than 200 euros for my personal template.

You can sit down with them and tell them what you want to have in the contract and ask what they recommend. As they are usually specific to making artist contracts and are local, you are sure the document will be perfect.

What to put in a photography contract


Your attorney will write some basic legal guidelines for you which are usually fairly standard. Yet, you can add options that fit your style of working with clients.

A couple of ideas you might want to include are…

Cancellation fees. Mine is in stages. So the fee is higher the two days before the shoot than 14 days in advance.

Next, I have a module that talks about the delivery time of the photos. In the template, there isn’t any specific date: “a reasonable timeframe.” Yet, this can be changed if the client wants to.

I also have a module about feedback. Of course, I want to adapt the delivered photos to any feedback the client may have. But I have put a limit on it. Seven days after delivery, the feedback has to be provided.

There is also a part talking about the copyrights and portrait rights. Who is responsible for which and what both parties allow each other.

In total, my template is three pages long and is very readable for legal text. Most clients actually read the contract. This is great as it informs them about some legalities and makes sure they don’t make any excessive claims during or after the shoot.

Some basics that should be in there:

  • The payment period. In Belgium it is standard to have 30 days after receiving the invoice. Yet even then, it’s good to have it in writing again.
  • Any fees for rescheduling, cancellations, … . This type of things
  • The delivery of the work. You can go in detail as much as you want. You can tell them how many photos to except, how long after the shoot you will deliver them, specific crops, or maybe prints, …
  • Feedback period/ editing rounds. Some people keep coming back months after the shoot for tiny retouching. Protect yourself by adding an enddate. If they need a retouch after it, you can create a new contract.

What about model releases?

Model releases aren’t really photography contracts you make with your client. Though, it is interesting to have a template close by.

I usually take some copies with me to shoots. If clients need the permission of their customers or staff, I have the papers ready to go. Often though, for staff, it’s included in their work contracts.

When photographing on the street, it can be useful to ask the stranger you just photographed to sign the paper. Though, they have the right to refuse, which should always be respected.

A model release is usually very short. Less than one page. Often even only half a page. This is of course because it just states that the photographed person allows the photographer to publish and use the work (commercially).

Being so short is also very helpful when photographing loads of people or strangers that might be in a bit of a hurry.

Do you already use a photography contract? Let me know in the comments below!

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