We will meet our clients in a lot of locations: the local coffee shop with free WiFi, on the hot sand wearing pants and 20 lbs. of photo equipment for a beach wedding, or even in a helicopter – however, one place we never want to meet them is inside a courthouse.
There’s the outrageous news story where the attorney groom sued his contract-less photographer for $300,000 because he believed his images from his Vegas wedding were “woefully inadequate.” Then there’s the news story of a Dallas-based wedding photographer who sued his clients for upwards of $1,000,000 for defamation of character after they went online and left unfavorable reviews over a disagreement of a $125 wedding album cover.
Have you heard the news story of an Australian wedding photographer who was sued for $6700 for failing to capture the first kiss and other key moments? Sadly, these stories exist and can come true for any photographer not careful enough to prevent them.
Whether you believe the bride and groom are money-hungry and just looking for an excuse to sue, or the photographer really didn’t live up to what he promised – most of these cases could have easily been avoided if the photographer had a signed contract, and additionally if the bride and groom had been clear of their expectations in writing as well.
Before I dispense any advice from my experience, other photographers advice, and research online I want to strongly advise that every wedding photographer needs to have a written contract drafted by an attorney, or at least a template that you can purchase that was drafted by an attorney.
Most photographers know to include the basics (contact information, schedule for the wedding, payment information, the shot list including names of who needs to be in the photographs, etc.) so I’ll skip that and go to some things you may not have thought of:
- Who would replace you if something were to happen to you and you couldn’t make the event
- Is there a late fee for if the bride misses a scheduled payment (make sure you schedule ALL payments!)
- What happens if the event goes longer than the contracted end time (make sure there is a firm start and finish time!)
- What happens if the event starts late? Will you still leave at the contracted end time, even if that means missing important moments? If you allow them to extend their time if the event starts late, how much notice must they give you?
- What is your timeframe for when you will deliver their images, edits, prints, albums, etc.
- What is your policy on other guests taking pictures (to distinguish the point-and-shoot from more “professional” photo-saavy guests use the terminology that you do or do not want guests doing photography with cameras with interchangeable lenses)? If you do allow it, make sure you include in your contract that you are not liable if they either a) get in the way of capturing an important moment, b) distract the subjects in your image from looking at your camera.
- What is the timing for breaks for you and your assistant(s)? Will you and your assistant(s) be served a meal? Where will you be seated for the meal during the event? Make sure to also let them know of any dietary restrictions. My advice: if possible ask to eat right after the wedding party eats, if they wait to feed you after everyone else is fed than you will miss important moments because the wedding party is done eating and wants to get the party started!
- How you will be dressed (some cultures do not want their guests to wear certain colors or may have clothing guidelines, even for the staff)
- Does your model release cover the entire event, or just photos of the bride and groom?
- What is the timeline for how long you will archive images on storage devices, online, etc.
- What happens if you don’t get every image on their Pinterest page or on their shot list?
- Who pays the legal fees should you go to court? Who pays if they sue you, and who pays if you sue them? I suggest this: make sure you state that if you sue to collect on the balance of a contract payment, the attorney fees and collection costs can be recovered.
- Will your customer receive all their images, or just the edited ones? I suggest only showing your best work and handing over edited images, but make sure the bride knows this ahead of time!
One more thing that I wanted to stress separately is the refund policy if the event should get canceled or the date would change to another day that you already have booked. First and foremost, explain to the bride that reason you keep the booking fee (yes, use the term “booking fee” and not “non-refundable deposit”) is because you have turned down business to keep the date for their wedding open. You are not keeping the money to be mean or greedy; you are keeping it because you turned away other opportunities to work on that specific date.
Also, include refund policies for the album design, the physical album, canvases, prints, slideshows, and/or the video. I suggest making sure the bride knows that these things are custom and stress that refunds are not available. Also advisable is having the bride pay 50% for the album before the wedding, and 50% when you place the order for the album later on.
Lastly, I want to stress that we do what do because we love it, and I would never want this to discourage anyone from going into the wedding photography field. We can’t predict how every client will react to situations, but with a good contract we can protect ourselves and have faith in the law that the evidence will support that you did a good job and any outrageous claim will be quickly tossed. This should not only give assurance to you as the hired photographer, but also protects the bride and groom and saves a lot of heartache, stress, and money in the end!