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8 Must-Haves for Your Next Professional Contract

Question: What are the key "ingredients" or criteria to always have in any contract, even simple ones?

When a photographer creates a professional contract, whether it’s an invoice or an estimate, it is very important that it be clearly written and include all relevant information. Often we refer to contracts months or even years later, so the more information included, the better.


© David Martinez

Here are some must-haves when you create a contract:

1. Image Quantity

Clearly describe the number of images the contract covers. Is it for a specific number, or does it include the library? Sometimes photographers photograph a library but only grant usage for the hero images. If this is the case, state so.

2. Image/Shoot/Project Description

Be sure to detail the who, what, where and when of the shoot. It’s not always easy to remember these details years later.

3. Usage Definition

This information is crucial. Included in this section should be information pertaining to time frame, the territory and the exact uses covered. Be as clear as possible and remember that many people interpret usage differently. For example, “unlimited print usage” for some could be “unlimited usage for all things printed” for others, or maybe “unlimited print magazine usage.” Do not be afraid to ask for clarifications if you are confused.

4. Exclusivity Inclusion

Are you granting the client exclusive usage of your images? Are they expecting to be the only clients permitted to license the images (and for how long)? If so, you need to include a fee for this license. This is something many clients will require but not want to compensate you for. It’s up to you to educate clients as to their options.

5. Copyright Provision

We require every one of our contracts to include a note indicating the photographer retains the Copyright Right License for the image. This is very important because copyright usage allows the photographer to continue to own the image and manage the rights.

6. Self-Promotional Provision

Occasionally, clients ask that photographers NOT share the work at all – even after the clients publish the work themselves. It is important to protect yourself so that you can market the work if you so choose.

7. Usage Fee Detail

There are many different ways to structure the fees for a project. Often, there is a Day Rate plus Usage Fees associated for each image. Other times, there is just a Creative Fee that covers all the images being photographed. And on top of all that, sometimes there are Upgrade Fees to own the entire library of images. Regardless of how the fees are structured, it is very important to detail the usage fees on the invoice exactly how you did on the estimate. If your total fee was $50,000 but it was broken down into five images at $10,000 each, it’s very important to show that breakdown. If the client requests additional usage later on, you’ll need to know those original cost breakdowns.

8. Purchase Order References

Did your client provide you with a purchase order? It is very important to reference any PO information on the invoice/contract. This will help the client find their records in the future. As well, it is crucial to make sure that the information on the PO matches what you have agreed to for the project. Often, the client will state that the PO supersedes the photographer’s invoice/contract. Therefore, you need to make sure you are very clear on the terms of the PO.

As usual, in this industry, there are no hard and fast rules. Knowing this, it is always in your best interest to be clear, concise and thorough when it comes to estimates, invoices and contracts. The more relevant information you discuss and include up front, the less questions and confusion there will be later.

About Heather

Heather Elder represents 9 commercial photographers, hosts an industry blog and stock inspiration site as well as consults with a variety of photographers nationwide. She graduated from Boston University and started her career at an advertising agency on the east coast where she worked as an account executive. It was while working on the Polaroid account that she realized her interest in photography. She left the ad agency to become an agent and producer for a Boston based photographer where she used her agency background to develop her own business style. Heather Elder Represents

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