Put simply, a contract sets out a framework of expectations, inclusions, and serves as an input for key information both from the clients and the prospective photographer that they both agree on by signing and dating. Such a physical and formal agreement and entering into it may seem a scary prospect, and should only be entered into if you are sure in your choice of photographer for your wedding (or other event/purpose), but it services as a way of protecting both parties. They are not as is sometimes believed a one-sided statement that puts the clients at a disadvantage, but if you feel this is the case then bring it up with the photographer BEFORE signing it so they can clarify things.
What’s very important, and this may seem like common sense, is to read the contract fully, including the terms and conditions if there are any, so that you understand what it entails and any limitations on liabilities on both parties if something unusual were to happen or not happen that may impact on the service which the contract covers.
Something I see often in online forums or social media is that when a problem crops up regarding a photographer (sometimes before the wedding, or afterwards), perhaps regarding a sudden loss of communication, issues over payments being made, something to do with the editing or delay in delivery of the photos after the wedding, is that most of the time the couple didn’t sign a contract, or have much in the way of a written confirmation of what they will receive, when, the price and terms of payment. It may be that a ‘friend’ has offered to do this, or a family member, perhaps for free or a fee much smaller than would normally be associated with a wedding photographer.
Those in the ‘friend or family member doing it as a favour’ camp for free or a low price are probably more in need of a contract to be involved in the process than when dealing with a professional photographer. You may not think it at the time, but for anyone offering to photograph a wedding as a favour when it’s not their normal job but because they have a good camera and want to do something nice, the complexities and implications of their offer rarely become apparent until it’s too late. They may struggle with equipment on the day, not know where to stand or what to do at key moments, may have to juggle editing the images with their normal work and social life and take a considerable amount of time to get them back to the couple. The list of pitfalls is pretty long.
Friendships and close family ties can easily be damaged by subsequent arguments and falling out over wedding photos. A written contract or some sort of agreement sets out expectations plain as day. The couple knows what to realistically expect, the photographer puts down what they can or can’t do, and the whole thing is agreed upon. There can’t be any ambiguity.
For the working professionals, a contract should form a fairly standard part of the booking process and will usually contain key information about the couple, contact details, address, perhaps names of the key members of the wedding party and parents. It will also contain details and times for the ceremony and finally the key inclusions and cost of the particular packages or services that have been booked. Payment terms will usually be split into a deposit or booking fee which may or may not be refundable, and the balance due by a certain date or time frame before the wedding. It is common for photographers to ask for full payment to be made BEFORE the wedding, as is true for the vast majority of other suppliers. This does mean there has to be an element of trust placed in the photographer to turn up, but the same can be said of other suppliers too. Having a contract in place with payment agreed upon based on a particular service being supplied makes not turning up difficult, as you have a written record of this and can easily prove your side of the contract and the lack of photos at the other end. Another important part of current contract law is that if you signed the contract online or at a place other than the photographer’s normal place of work, you have a 14 day cooling off period, beginning the day after the contract was signed, during which to cancel it if you so wish. This is a useful feature if something unusual comes to light or there is a sudden change in circumstances, but in the majority of cases it is not invoked.
So contracts are something that should be used in all situations, especially for events as significant as a wedding. The working professionals should always use them, and they should be suggested even if it’s a close friend of family member taking your wedding photos. For all the hassle they may be to initially write and set up, the peace of mind they give and trust they should convey in the legitimacy of the service cannot be understated. No contract, no booking. Go somewhere else.
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