Why You NEED a Signed Contract | Erica + Jon Photography

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We're Erica + Jon, professional photographers, Mr + Mrs and Mom + Dad. We like to share insights into our industry, behind the scenes and stories about our life and chips + salsa obsession.

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Why You NEED a Signed Contract

As previous wedding and lifestyle photographers, we always had contracts with our clients that define our work and the agreement we had with them. We always felt it was important, but it wasn’t until we stepped into the commercial photography space that we realized just how important contracts could be, and why you NEED a signed contract!

If you’re like us, you probably like to live life on the edge by rarely reading through the fine print legal-ese in contracts. We just scroll right to the bottom of the 1 million page document and sign them hoping that there are no issues and that we didn’t give away our firstborn as collateral! 

Contacts can feel overwhelming at first, trust us we’ve been there. All you want to do is run. Very. Far. Away. 

So let’s combat that feeling together. In this blog we’ll unpack and talk about why contracts are so important, especially in the commercial brand photography space. Here are some key things to keep in mind while dealing with contracts:

A Contract Protects the Business and the Client 

Yes, the contract is there to protect the business. 

BUT it is equally there to protect the client. 

A good contract is one that clearly defines, on both sides, what the expectations are, what the services being given are, what the payment structure is like and what kind of recourse the client has if the business doesn’t live up to their side of the agreement.

The intentions of the contract are never for a business to have a “gotcha” on the client. The business is not an old man telling people, “You got to be quicker than that.” It is clearly defining and laying out the expectations of what the work agreement is. 

We require contracts for every client we take on. They set clear expectations on what our clients can expect from us and in turn, what we ask of them. In most cases, businesses deliver on their promises and happy clients uphold their end of the agreement well.

But………there are sometimes when despite all efforts both upfront and throughout the process, things just don’t go well.

Contract and Image License Agreements

An additional layer to having a contract in the brand photography space is clearly defining what the client is able to use the images for. Brand photography has a monetary value…$$$$$$. Your images MAKE IT RAIN! You’re creating images that are used for marketing for business to help them sell their product or service or increase brand awareness. In turn it is going to increase their bottom line revenue and bring extra cash into their pocket.

Brand photos have a monetary value and because of that we need to clearly define how those photos can be used by the business. One of the ways commercial photographers do that is through image licensing. Image licence clearly defines the scope and use of the images and gives the permission to the client to use the images within the confines of that agreement. For example, if your client is only able to use the images for online advertising / digital use, it would restrict them from using the images for any printed collateral, billboards or large scale marketing campaigns. 

This is a completely different way of thinking from the standard lifestyle photography industry. In lifestyle photography, the photos will just be printed, hung on the wall and sent to grandma and grandpa. They might possibly even make the yearly Christmas card, if the pictures capture Mom’s good side! Nobody is making any money off of those photos being in existence. A brand on the other hand, they are going to make money off of these images. As brand photographers, we clearly define how they can use and leverage those images.

It Isn’t Always Smooth Sailing

In our career, this luckily has only happened once. This experience was awful, terrible and truly turned our guts upside down, ran them through the blender and gave us anxiety for WEEKS.

We had booked a session for a particular date, but our client’s schedule had to change because their product didn’t arrive on time. We happily changed the date to our next available, but that was also pushed for the same reason. When our client was finally ready for their shoot, we looked for every possible hole in our calendar and gave them our next available date — it was 3 weeks out! We hated delivering the news, but our shooting schedule was slammed and we were shooting every day of the week. Our client wasn’t happy and the frustration grew from pressuring to verbal attacks. 

We were completely torn inside. We lost sleep, called trusted mentors and friends for advice, and spent hours painstakingly combing through our contract to make sure we were covered for a situation like this. 

A Lesson Learned

Through the misery, we were SO happy that we had a clear, fair contract signed upfront that outlined exactly what should and should not happen in the situation. We’d done nothing wrong and had tried to love and serve our client, so although our conscience being clear was enough for us, it gave us peace of mind knowing that we were protected from the situation we found ourselves in — which was completely out of our control.

And you know who else was protected? Our client.

Even though the relationship unfortunately fell apart due to choices we had no control over, they still had the rights and protections built into the agreement that guaranteed we would and would not do certain things based on the circumstances. Even though it’s our nature to want to lovingly serve our clients regardless of the circumstances, it’s a signed document they were able to hold on to that guaranteed it.

Ok – that’s enough of that downer vibe…

Here’s the lesson learned though – Have a contract for your business!

Make sure that it clearly outlines the expectations your clients can have from you and what you expect from them in return. 

Ensure it is fair and honorable and a contract YOU wouldn’t mind signing. 

Finally, NEVER take on a project without having a client sign your contract – even if it is for family or friends! The John Hancock on your contacts is the MOST important!

Because contracts are just like a gym membership or QVC Kitchen appliances – they don’t work for you unless you use them!

P.S…does this all have you scratching your head on where the heck you can find contracts for your brand photography business. We’ve got you covered! Visit us here to see all of the Brand Photography-specific contracts and agreements we created with our lawyers just for you!

If you have any questions for us, feel free to drop us a comment or shoot us an email! Do you have any stories of having to refer back to a contract…..or a situation where you wish you would have had a contact? We’d love to hear from you!

comments +

  1. Colin Merrill says:

    Awesome advice for business owners in any field…great post! I think one of the best parts about contracts is eliminating scope creep! 🙂

  2. […] week on the blog we dove into the importance of having a signed contract from every client, including even close friends! It’s super important that your contract outlines expectations and […]

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