Freelance photographers of the world, I don’t have to tell you that you always need a contract. Likely, you already know that, even if you don’t consider yourself a professional, as it’s always good to be on the safe side. There are many photography legal forms available to make it easier for freelance photographers to protect themselves. Let’s take a closer look at the most important things to look at when shooting on commission.
Names and contacts of the parties. This is not just required by law but can also be useful in case there is a problem down the road. Maybe you need to request special rights permissions from the client. This could happen years later, so don’t toss your contracts but keep them somewhere where you can find them later (consider saving a tree and storing them online… on Docracy, for example!)
- This Portrait Photography Agreement has a specific contact section.
Price. It pays to divide the costs of the actual photography service from additional costs that you may charge the client, such as transportation. It’s also a good idea to list the details of the shooting. If you are an event photographer, hours and work details are extremely important. For example, wedding photographers are usually paid by the hour, but you can change that. If you go for a fixed fee, always put a cap on the number of hours you’ll stay at the location, or specify how much your overtime will cost. It is common practice for event photographers to ask for a downpayment, as that will cover your opportunity costs if the gig somehow goes away.
- This Wedding Photography Agreement specifies many details of the shooting (including a “paparazzi wedding guests” clause!).
Intellectual Property (IP) rights. As soon as the photographer shoots a photo he owns the copyright to that image. From there, the options are very broad, from complete assignment (with or without reserving certain rights such as paternity and portfolio) to a limited, non-exclusive license. The broader the license, the higher the price, of course.
- This sample License of Rights for Photography is a very photographer-friendly limited license.
Limitation of liability. Life is full of uncertainties. What if somebody steals your camera? What if you fall sick the day of the wedding? Contracts are the best way to avoid paying hefty damages for things out of your control. Here’s an example of a very reasonable liability clause from the Wedding Photography Agreement above.
If a photographer is too ill or becomes injured and cannot supply the wedding services specified above the Photographer will try to book a replacement wedding photographer. Under normal circumstances a second photographer from the Photographer is there for the day anyway and this photographer will then shoot the day on his/her own. If both photographers are unavailable and a replacement photographer cannot be found then liability is limited to a refund of any payments received. The Photographers have working methods in place to prevent loss or damage to your images. However, there is the unlikely possibility that images may be lost, stolen or destroyed for reasons in or beyond our control. In these circumstances liability is limited to the return of fees paid for the service or part thereof according to the percentage of images supplied.
Last but not least, have a model release if you plan to sell the photo to third parties. A model release is a separate document from the service contract, where the model releases his/her image rights to the photographer. While this release is not mandatory, it is very hard to sell a picture for commercial purposes without it, as both the photographer and the future publisher could be sued by the model. To find out if you need a model release, and what goes in there, you should definitely read this.