When couples find their wedding photographer, they want to move straight to the fun stuff like engagement photos and choosing bridal portrait locations. But reviewing and signing a wedding photography contract is an essential next step.
What Is a Wedding Photography Contract?
A wedding photography contract is a binding agreement between a couple and their photographer that outlines the photographer’s responsibilities, deliverables, and policies, including rescheduling or payment timing.
With a signed contract, photographers can rest assured the couple will follow through on their payments because a completed and signed contract is legally binding. Legalities and fine print may sound stuffy, but wedding photography contracts, as with all vendor contracts, should not be overlooked. We consulted with Samantha Clarke, a photographer and former lawyer, to highlight the ins and outs of wedding photography contracts.
Meet the Expert
Samantha Clarke is a lawyer-turned-wedding photographer based in Atlanta. Since 2009, she has captured over 200 weddings all over Canada, the U.S., Europe, and the Caribbean.
Why Wedding Photography Contracts Are Important
Contracts aren’t glamorous, and legalese hardly elicits wedding-planning butterflies. That’s why they’re put on the backburner as exciting topics like scheduling engagement photo sessions take precedence. But Clarke urges couples and her wedding photographer peers to take these documents seriously.
“In the excitement of planning and preparing for a wedding, photographers sometimes forget the importance of having a solid contract in place,” Clarke says. “The contract outlines expectations, so if things go wrong later, it’s great to have that document to look back at. It’s a way for photographers and couples to protect themselves.”
Contract importance makes sense in theory, but do photographers or couples actually use their contracts? In short, yes. According to the contract platform Wedding Industry Law, couples inquire about suing their wedding photographers pretty frequently. The most common disputes arise from three issues:
- Breach of contract: when a photographer doesn’t provide the agreed-upon services.
- Misrepresentation: when the photographer promises, say, a certain type of photo but doesn’t deliver.
- Misappropriation: when a photographer uses a photo of a person sans authorization.
Without a detailed contract, it’s tough to prove a photographer didn’t follow through on their agreed-upon services. That could leave couples high and dry without the photos they’ve been dreaming of. But contracts aren’t just for potential lawsuits. Contracts help photographers clarify their roles and responsibilities for the wedding, which helps clear up confusion before the big day. “Sometimes the couple doesn't fully understand the photography industry, so the contract will outline the details of what to expect,” Clarke says. “It’s important to have everything written down so the couples can refer to it.”
What Points Should Be Outlined in a Wedding Photography Contract
While photography styles, packages, and poses vary, most wedding photography contracts look similar. Clarke says a wedding photography contract should contain the following details:
- Biographical and wedding-day information: Include the names, addresses, and contact information for both parties. But don’t stop there. “It’s also great to have specific locations like the ceremony address, the venue name and address, and of course the wedding date—the month, day, and year,” Clarke says.
- Selected package details: Simply stating “highlights package” is not enough. The contract needs to be specific to prevent any confusion. It should list everything included in the selected package, with specifics such as “eight to 10 hours of coverage” instead of “full-day coverage,” Clarke says.
- Agreed-upon payment: The package information should also note important monetary details like payment schedule, late fees, and deposits. “Be specific about money, and note if there is a nonrefundable retainer fee,” Clarke says. “Many photographers require a 50 percent deposit upon contract signing, with the final payment due 30 days before the wedding. Some break it up even further. It’s up to the photographer what feels comfortable.”
- Deliverables timeline: For a wedding photographer, the work is only half-finished at the end of the wedding day. The final product is delivered weeks, and in some cases months, after. This can be a point of frustration for eager couples, so it’s important to make the product timeline clear. “Answers to questions like “when will you get the album?” and “how will it be delivered?” are important,” Clarke says. “Sometimes brides and grooms get so caught up then go on their honeymoon that they forget about the additional deliverables.”
- Payment method: It may be convenient, but credit-card payment is rarely accepted by photographers. That’s because the extra fees add up, which means income lost for wedding photographers. Payment requirements should be clearly stated alongside the agreed-upon pay. Does the photographer take check only? Do they accept credit card payments if the client covers the fee?
- Rescheduling parameters: The pandemic forced many wedding photographers to make their rescheduling and cancellation policies clearer. “This is something no one expected, so a lot of clients are wondering if there’s leeway to reschedule or cancel their weddings,” Clarke says. “The contract should thoroughly include the photographer’s cancellation or rescheduling policy, such as the agreement that they can reschedule within 90 days of the wedding if something were to happen.”
- Overtime hours: When couples and photographers sign their contract, it’s months and in some cases over a year before the actual wedding. Brides and grooms have no idea what the day-of schedule will look like, so it’s hard to nail down exact hours. That’s why most wedding photographers steer clear of “full-day coverage” within their contracts (unless it’s specified with a phrase like “up to 12 hours”). Make sure the contract includes how long the photographer will work, and the cost of additional hours if they need to stick around longer.
- Copyright specifications: When couples receive their wedding image files, they want to share them with the world. Instagram and Facebook are usually fine (it helps the photographer with word-of-mouth marketing) but some photographers say newspaper announcements and magazine submissions are a no-go. “Many photographers are reasonable and assume you are going to print your photos and put them up on your wall, and that’s totally within the right couples have with a personal license,” Clarke says. “But sometimes a contract stipulates that a couple is not entitled to submit to a publication without the photographer’s permission, so make sure to look out for this before sharing photos widely.”
- Model release: On the flip side, some couples don’t want their images used in a photographer’s promotional materials at all. “A lot of couples expect their photographs will be on social media, but some don’t want that, especially if children are involved,” Clarke says. “A model release permission is something the photographer and couple should talk about. This should be outlined in the contract so later on the bride and groom are not upset in the way their images are used.”
- Securing permits: Some popular photo locations require pre-approved permits, but who’s responsible for actually reaching out and making that happen? “Speak to who gets the permit in the contract,” Clarke says. “It’s important to get ahead of this so you don’t get kicked out in the middle of bridal portraits.”
- A meal clause: Brides and grooms are responsible for providing meals for reception vendors like the photographer and band, but typically this only applies to event coverage that lasts beyond a set amount of hours. The wedding photography contract should clarify this timeframe, as well as how many meals will be required.
Wedding Photography Contract FAQs
Is the contract valid without both signatures?
In the flurry of wedding planning, it’s easy to forget to request the counter-signed version of the contract from your photographer. The photographer is usually on top of this, but wedding season chaos can lead even the most organized photographers to forget this step. But without both signatures, the contract won’t hold up.
“A contract is not binding without both signatures,” Clarke says. “In most cases, people just forget, they’re not purposefully doing it. It seems small in the beginning, but when things go south and the couple or photographer realizes only one person signed it, that’s not a good place to be. The couple should be empowered to remind vendors to send their signed copy.”
Should a contract for destination weddings include specific details?
Destination weddings are a dream for many photographers, but they do require thorough contracts. Clarke, who travels frequently to film weddings in tropical locations like the Caribbean, says a destination wedding photography contract should include who pays for travel, which travel-related costs are covered (such as checked luggage), and accommodation specifications.
Another equally important destination wedding photography consideration? Whether or not the photographer can legally work there. “Some countries require you to have a visa to legally work there,” she says. “It’s always good to have those conversations before signing the contract so the couple can determine if the photographer has ample familiarity with the requirements of different nations.”