So you’ve found your perfect photographer and want to hire him or her for your big day. Inevitably, the next step will be to sign a contract. For many of us, this can be a little intimidating; we can’t all be lawyers! But you do need to inform yourself before putting your pen to that paper. There’s a plethora of information on the web that can help guide you through this process, but what better place to start than here? While this list certainly isn’t comprehensive—there are as many different contracts as there are couples getting married— it’ll give you a good idea of the kinds of things you should be looking for in the fine print.
1) Printing Release
Having the rights to print is becoming more and more important to couples. In fact, for many brides- and grooms-to-be, it’s a prerequisite. When meeting with your photographer, be sure that you’ll receive a physical printing release (a document signed by the photographer that you’ll be able to show your printer). You’ll also need the digital negatives, which literally means the Raw files directly from the camera, but has evolved into a sort of buzzword that refers to the large, print-ready JPGs, edited by the photographer.
I’d like to note that a printing release is not the same thing as a copyright release. A copyright release designates ownership. Your wedding photographs will forever remain the intellectual property of your photographer, meaning you won’t be able to make reproductions for financial gain. A printing release allows you to make prints for personal use only.
2) Hours of Coverage
Not sure how long you’ll need your photographer day of? Don’t worry, nobody is. This is something you’ll want to flesh out with your photographer. First, decide if you want “getting ready” photos. If so, take your ceremony time (let’s say 5:00) and subtract 1 ½ hours. Now you have your start time (3:30). Next, estimate your ceremony length (let’s say 30 minutes) and add that to 5:00, meaning your “formal” photo session will start around 5:30. This will put your ceremony entrance at 6:30, and after your cocktail hour, dinner should run from 7:30 – 8:30. Speeches, cake-cutting and formal dances will take you to around 10:00, and if you want all the dancing, partying and general good times documented, you’ll want your photographer until at least 11:00. Long story short, you’re looking at 3:30-11:00.
Obviously, every wedding is different, but the above schedule is one that I’ve seen many times, and it’s no coincidence that my most popular package includes eight hours of coverage.
One final component to consider: does your photographer allow you to add more time if things are running late? And believe me, things are always running late.
3) Two Photographers (but which photographers?)
Having two photographers (primary plus second shooter) has become commonplace. But many of the larger wedding photography companies out there substitute photographers based on availability. Will the two folks with whom you built trust in January be the same two individuals who show up at your wedding in July?
I think this is as good a time as any for a shameless plug. When you book Jesse La Plante Photography for your wedding, you’re guaranteed to have the same two photographers (Jesse and Moira) with you for the duration, from the initial meeting to the delivery of your images after your wedding. Moira and I have been shooting weddings together for nearly six years and, rest assured, you won’t have to worry about me pulling the ‘bait and switch’ and bringing a portfolio-building photo student as my second shooter.
4) Do I get a refund if _____?
Do I get a refund if my photographer runs out of gas on the way to my wedding and can’t make it in time? Absolutely. Do I get a refund if it rains and I don’t get all the photos I wanted? Absolutely not. Do I get a refund if my photographer drops his camera in the fountain and loses all of our images? Of course. Do I get a refund if my church accidentally double-booked my wedding day and we can’t have our ceremony? Nope. Do you see the pattern here? If forces beyond the control of your photographer contribute to a lack of photos, you won’t be entitled to a refund. But if you miss out on photos due to circumstances for which your photographer is directly responsible, you have every right to a refund.
But this is a two-way street. If you cancel your wedding for any reason, your photographer will keep your retainer. This is usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-50% of your total bill and due upon signing. In fact, this is the very reason your wedding photographer requires a retainer. He or she probably had several couples interested in your date, and if your wedding doesn’t happen, regardless of the reason, your photographer is now left with an open date.
5) Sales Tax
This is a relatively small thing, but depending on the price of your wedding package, it could be quite a large thing indeed. In the state of Colorado (where my business is located) if you buy a $3,000 photo package and your photographer has already embedded sales tax into his or her pricing, he or she is really only getting $2,770.08. The other $229.92 is going to the government. If your photographer charges sales tax on top of his or her listed prices, you’re looking at $3,249 out of pocket. Again, this is small beans, but determining exactly what you’ll be paying prior to signing the contract is a good practice of the informed consumer, especially since little things can add up to put you over budget.
6) Photographer Meals?
This isn’t so much something to look for in your contract as it is something that couple after couple asks if I put in my contracts. Let the record state: unequivocally, no! While it sure is nice to have a bite to eat during the course of an eight-hour shoot, and you probably don’t want your photographer’s blood sugar to drop during your first dance, I deem it unnecessary to put the needs of my belly in a legally-binding business document. That said, whether or not you’re contractually obligated, feeding your photographers (and all your vendors, for that matter) is just the right thing to do.