Releases, Contracts, and Waivers for Photographers

Lesson 3/6 - Contract Requirements


Releases, Contracts, and Waivers for Photographers


Lesson Info

Contract Requirements

All right, so we talked, I talked a little bit about like the validity of a contract. I went really fast through that just because I think most of us do that. We understand that you have to have the two parties. I'm offering to do this. You're gonna give me X, Y, and Z in exchange; but there's also requirements you need to have within the document. Now my big caveat for here is, please, please, for the love of everything, please do not be writing your own documents. Please do not take everything that I give you and go home and try to write your own and just use it. I have seen problems for people who have written contracts for themselves, drafted against themselves, and hurt themselves more than if they had had nothing at all, which is very surprising, right? You would think something is better than nothing, not in this case. So as I go through the requirements I'm about to list and any of the inclusions that you should have in different documents, this is so that you guys can take it,...

check the contracts that you have now, take it to a lawyer to help you so you better understand what should be in there; not so you guys can go and try to cobble it together yourself. Please don't; please don't, okay. So contract requirements, all party information. The reason I say party is because you may not necessarily, the person signing, the other party, the other, yeah, the other party signing the contract may not necessarily be the person that's being photographed. This happens a lot when it comes to weddings, okay? The mom and dad may wanna sign the contract for the couple, okay, so party information. I recommend, and the way that I write my contracts, is I just call them client. I don't say bride, groom, whatever it is. I don't say partner or as people try to get cutesy, just client, very easily; and one of the best ways to do this, and this is going a little bit down a rabbit hole, at the very beginning, and I'm going in logical order of exactly, logical, I'm sorry, chronological. But it is logical, in my mind, of the contract requirements to have. At the very beginning, you're identifying who the parties are. This keeps you guys from also having to go through and change out someone's name each time through the whole document. Just at the very beginning, identify who the party information is, who's signing that document. Identify them as party or client or whatever, you know, you can work that out with your attorney, whatever that designator they're gonna be for the rest of the document, okay. Does that make sense? A lot of times I've seen people go through and they have the name; they try to be cutesy, and they wanna make it all personal. And they have the same name all the way through; but if you're cranking through weddings and it's busy wedding season, you're gonna screw it up and miss a name. It could be a nominal issue; it may not be a big of a deal, but it doesn't look very professional either. So party information off the top and the must-haves for validity. We talked about that a little bit already. One thing I do wanna say here, we're gonna go into this a little bit more later on, is that digital contracts are valid as long as they have all that entire list of valid requirements that I gave you guys before. So if you're not using them; why? Even if you meet them in person; why? There, it's just too smart not to these days. There are so many systems available out there for us that are inexpensive, they're secure, and they make things look professional and more efficient. Even if you're a wedding photographer and you're meeting someone in person, put it on the laptop, spin it around, and have them sign it right there. Electronic signatures for United States are valid. So use it, okay? I, I'll get on my little soapbox here. I don't wanna see any of y'all using PDFs, not from a legal perspective, but from a mother's perspective, someone who does the booking of all of our family sessions, who has five kids, who talks on creative life, who doesn't; I can hardly even get my hair combed in the morning. I don't have time to go home, when I'm trying to book my photographer, go home, plug in my computer, my printer, my printer's out of paper; shit, I gotta go down to Costco. Go to Costco, get paper, come home, and find out that the ink is out. Wait three days for the Amazon to send me the ink, figure out how to get it in without busting it all over my carpet. Now I gotta call Stanley Steamer, and I gotta do all this; and the kids screaming, and the baby's coloring on the wall. Two weeks later I still haven't booked my photographer, and, why, when there is a legal thing that you, and you guys laugh, couple of you are chuckling. I have booked my own photographers within the last year who obviously don't listen to my talks because none of them use digital contracts. They're still using the PDFs. So I use this example to say, go with what is most efficient as long as it's in line with the legal requirements, okay? It can be a signature, it can be typing a name, it can be a check box; we have this a lot fleshed more out on an article on TheLawTog, but just keep in mind that electronic signatures are valid. I kind of jumped a little bit; we've got a little bit more about that later on. So, moving next, so contracts good-to-have; the main contract that I'm gonna talk about here is the booking one. It's the one that gets you and me into the actual relationship with being photographer and client together. Drafting of contracts, believe it or not, is an art form. You wouldn't think so, right? It's actually really fun for me because I love to see the way that other lawyers write contracts as well. That's so dorky; I can't believe I just admitted that. But I love to see it, and then I also like to fine tune that to help you guys. And this is where I'm gonna share with you, and I'm not telling you to go to your lawyer and say, "Rachel said you should write it like this, and you're doing it wrong." Everyone, there's not like one set way to do it, right? That's why everything's kind of all over the place. Some are more full of legalese, some are more fun and relaxed; but, for me, I love and I have found that this is the best way to set the expectations and to communicate with your clients is to have your booking contract be in chronological order from them coming to you ready to book. What is the very step after, going past identifying who the parties are and all of that; what is the very first step that they need to do to get you booked? Pay you, sign the contract; so that's the very first thing that I put on there, okay. All the way through the very end, and I'm gonna dig into this a little bit more; but all the way through the very end of the entire process, it mirrors all my email communications, it mirrors my entire workflow. So if you guys are sitting there going, oh crap, I don't even know what to do for my contract; I don't know if it's right. It's not wrong, it just has makes it easier for your clients to better understand it; and anything that they understand better and they feel more comfortable with is less scarier, okay? So if you're freaking out thinking, oh my God, I don't know how I'm gonna do this to mirror my communications or I don't have any communications in place, oh my God; just take a piece of paper and write down your workflow from when your clients come in to inquire all the way through the session, all the way through payment, all the way through the very end of it when you deliver their products and you're pretty much done. That is also how I look at having the contract. It mirrors the workflow chart I have on my wall, and your email communications should also mirror the same. Remember I said at the very beginning that the number one legal issue, or that causes legal issues, is miscommunication or lack of setting expectations. It's because there's a communication breakdown somewhere. So if you take and you have your workflow mirroring your contract and your communications with your clients are all mirrored across, your customer, your customer; it's your clients feel better. They're, they feel they understand the process, you won't miss things that you need to tell them, and I also like to pick the most important things out of my contract and try to tell them something at least three times. For example, when their payment's due, when they're gonna receive their images. That's a big one because clients get so excited. They want their images; before the session even ends, they're like texting you. While they're standing there, they're going, hey, Rachel, where's my pictures? So I like to try to tell them three times. So, for example, it would be in the contract of my delivery schedule; that's one. Another would be at the end of the session, and this is a good way to kind of segue ending a session without being, oh look, your time's up. Just be like, okay, so I think we got everything and, you know, these images will be ready in two to four weeks or whatever your timeline is; that's the second time. And then also follow that up because what was the rule that I gave you guys earlier? Email, important things that you say in person, you always wanna follow up with an email. So I would follow up, and I typically do this before I even leave the session. I just email it from my phone; hey, thanks. And there's online systems like Iris Works, HoneyBook, I think, and a couple of others out there that you can trigger to automatically send an email for you with all of this. But I like to just say, "hey, thanks, I had so much fun with little Timmy even when he kicked me in the shins and vomited on my shoe, but the images are gonna be ready in four weeks," okay? So that's three times that I told them something that's really important, all because I took my contract and make sure that the contract mirrored my communications and those mirror my workflow, okay? Does that make sense? Again, so you're just reverse engineering it. You guys know what your workflow is. Just write down your steps of what you're already doing. You probably dig through your email just to see you're already sending the same emails over and over. Template those, and this is not legal; this is just efficient. This is just common sense stuff so you guys can start being a lot more efficient and then also so it's consistent and cohesive. So, like, with that rule of three with the how long the images are gonna be ready or when you need to pay me; if we ever have an issue and we by meaning you, the photographer, and me as your lawyer, I'll be able to say, "Sally told you three different times X, Y, and Z," okay? And the written communications are what I'm gonna be able to hang our legal argument on; and it will help because the majority of times when you have clients that fly off the bat and they're gonna sue you for something, majority of stuff settles. And the more ammunition that I can say to back you up, she told you three times this happened, this happened, here's the examples, the more likely they're gonna be like, okay, they'll give in. You may have to settle; you may not, and you can eliminate it and not have to pay a lawyer such a big enough bill. So all these things are not just, they're setting expectations, providing customer service, they're an investment in you not having to go down a legal path later. Because you never know; people aren't crazy until they're crazy, okay? They may love the contract, they may be all about it; but then all of a sudden the switch flips, all right? I kind of did this, talked about this a little bit already, self-drafted legal documents are riddled with potholes waiting to take out your ankle; and it's true. There's little things that, I sit in Facebook groups, and I see people reading all these crazy issues that happen. And I always see the follow up comments of, I'm gonna go put that in my contract so this doesn't happen to me; and people start shoving as much as they can into their contracts. They draft it themselves, they put in all this extraneous stuff that can do what? That can muddle the contract, it can make it invalid, it can confuse the client, it can scare the client away. Self-drafted is not the way to go, but I do recommend check list of everything that I'm gonna give you. Take a look at these problems that you see that other photographers are having in Facebook groups because I know y'all aren't working. You're sitting there posting and liking and putting gifts all through the thing. I mean, come on, make a list and set on your calendar at least every year to meet with an attorney to update your contracts for you, okay? It's really important. Now you're like, crap, now I've gotta pay an attorney. I don't say this as an attorney, like I said at the very beginning; I say this as a business owner who wants to focus on my business and my family and not have to be in Rachel's inbox. I don't like making my money that way at all. So just keep that in mind, take these check lists, and just take it with a grain of salt. Only the crazy stuff get thrown into groups, okay? You probably will never counter, encounter, some of these problems; but it is good to be able to tell an attorney. And if you have concerns, this is another thing, when you go in the door to talk to the attorney or you're looking at your document, I tell my clients verbally regurgitate. I'm like, I got all day. I got my coffee; you tell me everything that you're doing in your business, everything, and let me sort out through that word vomit what is important and what's not. Don't try to self-select what you think is important or relevant to stick in the contract. Your workflow, which we've already identified, provide the email communications because you may say something in there that is contradictory to what is in the contract or vice versa, okay?

Class Description

The use of legal documents is standard in business, but the understanding and implementation of these documents in photography businesses is less common. So many photographers land in hot water for not having or understanding the proper documents. Join Rachel Brenke, TheLawTog®, as she helps get you armed against liability and issues by discussing what releases should say and how to read contracts and waivers to set you up for success.

The Brenke Group, LLC, doing business as TheLawTog® (“TheLawTog”) provides an online legal portal to help customers identify business and legal problems commonly encountered by individuals in the photography industry. TheLawTog is not a law firm and does not and will not perform services performed by an attorney. TheLawTog is NOT a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Instead, TheLawTog provides templates and education to individuals who voluntarily chose to prepare their own legal and/or business documents, submit templates to licensed attorneys for modification, and/or for education purposes prior to contacting a licensed attorney.


Charlotte M

Very reassuring to watch as you set up your contracts and policies! I own several of her template packages and this class was great for understanding the contents of my templates.