One of the most common mistakes I come across in the wedding industry is the lack of attention paid to contracts. When you run a wedding photography business, contracts aren’t just a good idea – they’re essential. Not only do they protect you, but a thoughtfully composed contract makes expectations, services, and deliverables clear from the get go. This means your client knows exactly what they’re signing up for and can communicate any questions, concerns, or priorities before officially enlisting your services. Sounds ideal, right? Happy clients are good for business. This means you can’t just copy and paste some other vendor’s contract you happened upon and call it a day. It needs to be customized for you, your state, and your services. So pull out your current client contract and give it a good looksee. Here are the top five clauses you need to cover:
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the cost to travel to a wedding you’re shooting falls on you if it’s not a destination wedding. A wedding in your state might still be a two hour drive each way! Not only does that add time to your work day, but it’s also mileage on your car (hello, maintenance fees), gas, and possible tolls (I live on the Northeast Coast which is apparently obsessed with tolls). Make sure you are calculating and covering the real cost of doing business, which means every single client contract – not just the destination weddings! – needs to cover travel. So what should be included? Set a regional, national, and international fee system, and cover everything from mileage rates to accommodation minimums. Specify whether or not you need travel insurance and whose responsibility it is to pay for it. Spell out when the client can expect an invoice for travel fees and how long they will have to pay it. And finally, if there’s anything COVID-19 has taught us, travel can be unpredictable – and really stinking hard to get your money back. So a non-refundable travel policy works best!
Limitations Due to Venue Rules
What we put out into the world, from publications to our published portfolio, is the best of the best of our work. That’s just good business practices! But it also means that the work your future clients see and fall in love with is likely from ideal events, where the weather was perfect, the clients had impeccable taste and a large budget, and the venue was an absolute dream to work with. Unfortunately, that’s not always going to be the case, so let your clients know up front that some things are out of your control and the end results can be affected. So when the client is searching for a venue, they should find out if flash is allowed, if the religious building gives you free movement and access during the ceremony, and when the reception set up will be completed – those detail photos just aren’t possible if set up is literally happening during cocktail hour! So give your clients a heads up and manage their expectation by spelling out these potential limitations in your contract.
Let’s revisit that unpredictable weather, mentioned above. You probably let clients know in the contract that you’re not liable for how the weather affects the look of day-of photography coverage. But does your contract give you final say in making the call not to shoot something because of the risk the weather poses to your equipment? And what about the engagement session – that often can be moved in hopes of better weather, but what are your policies? Who makes the final call – you or the client? When is it too late to reschedule, and are their fees involved? This all needs to be included in your contract.
Yes, your availability and your price range certainly affect if a client hires you or not, but the number one reason your clients come to you is because they fell in love with your style. And this is how it should be! But keep their expectation in check at the beginning about editing and revision requests as well as you Photoshop and retouching policies.
Cancellation and Rescheduling
This is probably the most important contract clause of all – and any half decent contract template will include it (if it doesn’t, run, don’t walk, the other way!). But there’s also so much wiggle room here because the circumstances causing cancellations or rescheduling can be so varied, and often so emotional. Trying to explain to a distraught couple who needs to change the date of their Turks and Caicos wedding at the last minute due to a hurricane why they’re getting charged a rescheduling fee isn’t going to go smoothly. Trust me. So make sure every possible situation is covered in the original contract, and in easy to understand language, so you’re not losing money due to circumstances out of your control and they aren’t surprised when they don’t receive their retainer fee back.
Questions to keep in mind when looking through your contract:
Do I spell out what is refundable?
Are additional payments after the initial payment refundable?
Are there fees for rescheduling or postponing?
Does updated pricing apply?
Are there limitations for rescheduling (i. E. The new date must be within six months of original date for same pricing to still apply) or notification requirements?
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to contracts, which is why it’s so important you work with a barred attorney to draft yours. Not only will a comprehensive, clear contract protect you and the integrity of your business, but it will also put your clients at ease, because they will know exactly what to expect. But most of us don’t have the budget to work with a lawyer on a custom contract, which is why I created templates. My goal is to give creative entrepreneurs the legal and business tools they need, without the headache of legalese or the exorbitant fees. As a licensed attorney in the State of New Jersey, I’ve designed these contract templates to set up any creative business owner for success. Each document is easy to modify, with highlighted text to customize it to your business. All templates provide extensive coverage (Yes, I cover everything I mentioned above and more, no clauses needed!) and are valid in all 50 States, plus free updates are included. What are you waiting for?
MAGI FISHER BIO
Magi is a lawyer, educator, photographer, storyteller, traveler, and entrepreneur. Her journey has taken her from photographing professional surfers while swimming in some of the world’s most epic waves to receiving a Juris Doctorate from Rutgers Law. If she’s not photographing a wedding with her husband, Scott, in a remote locale, managing her team of Associate Photographers at Magdalena Studios, or providing legal counsel to creative business owners via Magi Fisher, she’s probably eating an acai bowl, chasing her pup, Arti, around the beach, or watching SVU reruns in her bungalow.
This information is made available for educational and general informational purposes only; it is not legal advice for an individual case nor does it guarantee any future result. This material may be improved upon or updated without notice, and Magi Fisher will not be held responsible for any outcomes as a result of this education. Do not act upon this information without seeking individual advice from a lawyer licensed in your state. You understand that viewing this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and Magi Fisher.