Why Photographers NEED Contracts (and What to Put in Them)

October 28, 2020

We all love scary stories, right? Here’s one for you.

Once, long ago, I made my own contract. I basically took bits of contracts from other free sources online and stitched them together. 

As you might’ve guessed, it didn’t work out so well. My Frankenstein’s monster of a contract wasn’t really suited to my business, but you know…it was cheaper and easier to do then.

BUT THEN… *cue the horror music* I had a run-in with a difficult client, who scared me into seeking out a lawyer. I ended up paying upwards of $1,200 for a professional, custom contract. 

Lesson learned.

If hearing my personal horror story isn’t enough, let’s talk about other reasons why you need a contract for your photography business. Seriously, a contract should be non-negotiable.

Contracts keep everyone on the same page

A contract is your go-to document that lists everyone’s expectations. Your client has an idea of how long the process will take, what they get out of it, what might happen if they’re not happy with the photos, so on, and so on.

On your end, a contract gives you a concrete outline of what your client wants. For example, if you’re shooting a product ad, you’ll know the project deliverables, what happens in case of delays or cancellations, what materials you can use, and other important stuff.

Without a contract, you risk playing Twenty Questions every time you and your client discuss the project. Nobody has time for that. 

Contracts give you credibility (and your clients confidence)

Contracts make you look #professionalAF. With a contract, you’re saying to potential clients, “Hey, I’m organized and reliable and a serious biz owner. I have a contract, for cryin’ out loud! Hire me!” 

What’ll your clients think when they see that you have a contract? We bet it’s something along the lines of, “Now there’s a photographer I can trust. I feel like my investment in their service is protected by their contract. I’m sold, when do we get started?!”

Hypothetical conversation aside, having a written document to spell everything out for both parties builds client confidence and your credibility.

CYA in a legal conflict

CYA (as in “cover your a$$”) with a contract in case a legal issue arises. No one likes to think about legal conflicts, but it’s wayyy easier to prepare for one rather than deal with it after the fact. You already have enough to juggle as a creative business owner. Don’t add a complicated and long legal battle to your To Do list! 

Take it from Alli Elmunzer of Influencer Legal, who I recently interviewed about photography contracts. With over 13 years of experience in law and entrepreneurship, Alli had a lot of advice to share about the importance of contracts, and other ways you can legally protect your biz.

What do you actually need in a contract?

A good contract covers all your bases. Not just when you’ll deliver the product, but the timeline for producing those photos, props and shipping, client approvals, and much more. Here are some of the most important topics you should have in your contract.

Scope of work

So, what will you actually be doing for this client? Scope of work explains the services and deliverables you’ll be providing.

Payment terms

What’s the total amount due and how will it be paid out?


How are they managed, and do you charge additional fees?

There’s a lot more that goes into a solid contract. If you want to evaluate your own current contract, I have a free resource that you’ll like: 10 Contract Must-Haves for Commercial Photographers.

lish creatives photography contract must-havesIn it you’ll find more details on the three topics we just covered, plus the rest of the list! You’ll also have questions to ask yourself when working with clients and creating contracts.

Download my free photography contract checklist now!


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