Wedding Photography Contracts 101

Hiring your wedding photographer comes with some contract work. Need help with the fine print of wedding photography contracts? You’re in the right place.

By The Zola Team

Wedding Photography Contracts 101
Photo by Zola

The First Look ✨

All wedding vendors require contracts. This is because most are booked months in advance, and payment is typically outlined in the contract and completed beforehand. Your wedding photography contract will also cover several other factors, all of which should be laid out long before the big day arrives.

In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about wedding photography contracts:

Why You Need a Wedding Photography Contract

A wedding photography contract is a legally binding document that allows all parties involved to be on the same page about the work that’s being done. By signing a contract, couples can ensure they’re getting the exact services they’re agreeing to pay for.

On the other side, photographers want to be sure that their working dates are finalized and payment is completed properly. Overall, your wedding photography contract is important because it concludes payment, services, and policies that everyone can understand.

Wedding vendor contracts also reduce the risk of lawsuits. In cases where a contract is not presented, couples and photographers may run into legal issues, such as false advertising, inability to deliver, or misappropriation of photos. Contracts are also important for privacy concerns. By including a copyright clause, each party is clear on who has ownership over the photos. This is crucial information for the distribution of these photos or videos.

At the end of the day, any professional, trustworthy wedding photographer is probably going to require a contract. If you want the job done right, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the concept.

So, let’s take a look at the ins and outs of this practice.

What to Include in Your Wedding Photography Contract

Most wedding photographers approach couples with their own set of clauses that are unique to their services. While some things may be non-negotiable, this doesn’t mean couples can’t add things to their side of the contract, as well.

Your wedding photography contract should be a collaborative effort between you and your vendor. The details outlined in this document will ensure each party receives what they are promised promptly, with no confusion or misunderstanding.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled some of the most common elements you’ll find in a wedding photography contract:

  • Rescheduling and Cancellation: One of the biggest reasons photographers require contracts is for rescheduling and cancellation purposes. It’s no secret that sometimes life gets in the way of your plans. Couples need to ensure there’s at least some flexibility in this department, so they won’t lose an entire deposit due to an accident or emergency.

    • Most photographers will charge a fee for canceling or rescheduling, but this should be clearly defined in the contract beforehand.

    • Note: If you find yourself needing to postpone, don’t forget to send out change-the-dates to everyone on your guest list. While this is always a difficult message to send out, as so many friends and loved ones booked trips around your special day, they will understand. When you’re ready, Zola offers dozens of customizable designs for this essential stationery.

  • Cancellation by the Photographer: On the flip side, your photographer may have a cancellation clause within the contract in the event they can’t make it. Of course, photographers aim to be present and ready to work on the dates they’ve been hired to—but emergencies do happen. In this case, your contract will hold the photographer accountable for finding an appropriate replacement.

  • Dates: This part is fairly simple. Your contract should outline the dates and times that the photographer will be working. In addition to the actual wedding, couples should keep in mind all the events that they want to photograph. Examples may include the rehearsal dinner or any shots before or during the ceremony. There are more photo opportunities than just the reception, but these working hours must be scheduled and paid for in advance.

  • Payment: Your photography contract should also outline any deposits put down ahead of time, along with the total. Wedding photographers may include information about additional fees, payment methods, and other payment terms within the contract. Other costs involved in the photography process may include:

  • Retainer fees

  • Late payment charges
  • Photo packages
  • Photo editing fees

Communication is important in satisfying both parties financially. Couples should be honest when discussing and setting their wedding budget before finalizing the contract, and a professional photographer will be upfront about what they charge.

  • Responsibilities: A large portion of your photography contract will cover the services you’re paying for. Some questions to ask when composing this part of the photography service agreement should include:

  • What are the responsibilities of your photographer?

  • Will your photographer be editing and printing the photos?
  • Who is your photographer taking pictures of?
  • Are the photos strictly portraits, or are you hiring your photographer to take candids throughout the night?
  • Is your photographer supplying their equipment?
  • How many photos are you expecting from your photographer? Have you created a wedding photo shot list for them to follow?

Couples should be specific about what they want from their photographer. If this information isn’t agreed upon before the wedding, the final product may not be what they were envisioning.

  • Deliverables: A delivery timeline should be outlined in your photographer’s contract, as well. Couples may get frustrated or antsy if their photos are taking too long, but having a set due date can prevent these post-wedding issues. Fortunately, most wedding photographers tend to include a delivery timeline within their contract—often within a certain range, such as 90 days after the wedding. Most photographers prefer to set a clear deadline and stick to it to maintain a good reputation among their clients. They may offer to create a wedding album for you, but it’s often cheaper to just receive the raw (and edited) footage. Once you have this, you can create your customizable wedding album with Zola’s effortless album wizard.

  • Privacy: Couples need to be clear and honest about their privacy concerns regarding the final product. Professional wedding photos are subject to copyright laws, and typically the model is the rightful owner of these images. A photographer may ask if they can use your photos publicly, such as adding them to their portfolio or website. Explicit permission must be given for this, otherwise, it’s a breach of contract.

  • Meals: Wedding photographers put in quite a bit of work to capture your magical day on camera. In return, it’s important couples provide a quality meal for all photographers, videographers, and crew. Many photography contracts include a clause that outlines these meal policies, as well as any scheduled breaks. Couples will need to discuss this with their food vendor and ensure extra meals are provided for everyone on the photography team.

  • Weather: This clause is typically used for outdoor wedding venues, but every photographer will have their policies regarding equipment safety. If you’re planning on photographing an outdoor ceremony, the weather is a factor that must be considered. Rain and other inclement weather can potentially damage camera equipment, and couples may be held responsible for the cost of replacement or repairs. Talk to your photographer about this part of the contract, particularly if you’re planning an outdoor event in a rainy climate.

  • Equipment Safety: In addition to weather-related incidents, any damage inflicted on equipment may become your responsibility, depending on the details of your contract. Most photographers have a policy that outlines when equipment must be replaced—this is typically a matter of days.

Your wedding photography contract is going to cover all these details and more. However, by ensuring these key elements, you can feel more confident about finalizing your agreement.

Other Parts of Your Wedding Photography Contract

All this talk of clauses and policies can be a little overwhelming, especially for couples who have never worked with a photographer before. With that being said, wedding photography contracts are nothing to lose sleepover. While the fine print may belong, most of these contracts will look fairly similar—and the bulk of the material is going to be pretty straightforward.

Your wedding photography contract will probably include a lot of information that you already know, such as:

  • The date and time of your wedding
  • The location of each venue
  • How long the photographer will be working

Your contract is simply a document that clarifies everything related to the wedding. Couples shouldn’t be nervous or intimidated by this part of the process. If you’re feeling confused at any point, don’t hesitate to reach out to your photographer and have a discussion.

It’s always better to ask too many questions, rather than too few.

Destination Wedding Contracts

While most photography contracts cover a standard set of parameters, destination weddings require a bit more clarification.

When you’re paying for a wedding vendor to travel a long distance, you’ll need to go over a few extra details before sealing the deal. Vital aspects of a destination wedding contract should include:

  • Travel Costs: Couples almost always pay for the travel costs of their photography crew. In addition to transportation—such as plane tickets—you’ll also be covering checked bags, travel insurance, and any other fees. It’s important to keep these costs in mind when preparing your photography budget, particularly when it comes to transporting and protecting expensive camera equipment.

  • Lodging: If your photographer is traveling for an extended period, you’ll also be in charge of providing lodging. This may mean paying for additional hotel rooms or accommodating the photography crew with your housing. Either way, your photographer must have a room that’s close, comfortable, and private.

  • Additional Meals: Unlike traditional weddings where your photographer will only need a single meal, destination weddings are going to cost you quite a bit more in terms of food. In some cases, couples may be responsible for feeding their photography crew three square meals for each day they are there. Keep this in mind when drafting your contract, and be sure to clarify the meal clause in regards to the specific circumstances.

  • Travel Documents: If you’re getting married outside of your home country, this must be discussed and planned well in advance. Your photographer may need to obtain a passport or visa before they can travel to your destination. Any additional fees related to these documents may be the responsibility of the couple, as well.

Destination weddings pose an entirely different set of challenges compared to local events. While many photographers will be ecstatic about accompanying the couple to an exciting destination, some aspects must be taken care of beforehand.

When to Book a Wedding Photographer

Now that you’re a contract connoisseur, it’s time to talk about the timeline of hiring a wedding photographer.

To thoroughly prepare for this agreement, couples must start their search early. You’ll want to begin researching photographers at least a year before the big day. If you find a photographer before nailing down a date, make sure to inquire about their availability. Many wedding photographers book well in advance, and you want to find out if they have openings before you start making any plans.

Your booking should be finalized no later than nine months before the wedding day. This gives your photographer time to prepare their equipment, create a shot list, and draft a professional and detailed contract.

When you finalize your contract and sign it, you may be required to put down a deposit—often up to 50 percent of the total. The rest of the balance will be paid sometime closer to the wedding date, typically around 30 days prior.

A great way to find and choose your wedding photographer early and get to know them is by hiring them to take engagement photos first. This will give you an idea of their style, as well as their business practices. Forming a relationship with your photographer can help you get comfortable in front of the camera, and it may lead to easier discussions and greater collaboration.

By searching at least a year in advance, you’ll have plenty of time to look at portfolios, figure out your budget, and craft a solid contract that satisfies everyone. The good news is that this process is much faster with Zola’s list of pre-screened wedding vendors. Couples can use search filters to find qualified, professional photographers and videographers just about anywhere.

Wedding Photography Dos and Don’ts

The purpose of a contract is to avoid issues and mistakes with your wedding photographer. To make this process as smooth and organized as possible, we’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts that every engaged couple should know.

Do

  • Meet Your Photographer Beforehand: We can’t stress this enough. Texts and emails aren’t always enough to thoroughly communicate, especially when you’re dealing with a complicated contract. Having a few face-to-face meetings will make discussions much easier and help you and your fiancé feel more comfortable with the person you’ve hired.

  • Ask Questions: There's a reason you’re hiring a professional in the first place—photography is most likely not your area of expertise. (Unless, of course, you’re also a photographer.) For couples who aren’t as well-versed in the world of photography, it’s perfectly fine to ask questions along the way. Whether you’re unsure about a particular clause in your contract or you simply want to know more about the photos they’ll be taking, now is the time to learn.

  • Read Your Contract: This may seem like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of people tend to sign contracts without actually reading them. We understand nobody reads the entire terms of service agreement when they approve their iOS update, but photography contracts are serious. Skimming this document can lead to confusion and miscommunication throughout the process, and you don’t want to risk ruining your wedding photos because you didn’t read the fine print.

  • Agree on a Shot List: Most wedding photographers will be happy to collaborate with couples on a shot list. While your photographer may have a general idea of what they’ll be doing, it’s also important to communicate what you want out of this relationship. Crafting a shot list will make it easier for a photographer to provide exactly what you want (and what you’re paying for).

Don’t

  • Use Estimates: Nobody likes surprises. When it comes time to sign your photography contract, it’s important to get an exact total from the vendor. Otherwise, you may wind up with surprise charges that don’t fit your budget.

  • Pay Late: Couples must make a note of due dates and pay every portion of their bill on time. If these dates are outlined in your contract, you put yourself at risk of legal issues when payment is late. Not to mention, missing payments can lead to a bad relationship with your photographer. Avoid these problems by staying organized and budgeting properly every step of the way.

  • Put Off Contract Signing: The contract likely isn’t the most exciting part of planning a wedding, but that doesn’t mean you should put it off. Couples should avoid waiting until the last minute to get contract information and signatures. Completing this step early on will help get both parties on the same page and create a stress-free environment for the couple and their photographer.

The bottom line? It’s all about proper communication. Communicating and thoroughly reading your contract will make this process much easier for everyone involved.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Zola Has You Contract-Covered

Finishing your wedding contract (alongside everything else you have to do in preparation for the big day) can be stressful. That’s why we’ve created tools to make your life (and planning) simpler.

From stylish card designs to pre-screened vendors, to a free wedding website builder, Zola makes wedding planning a piece of cake.

Contracts are hard enough, simplify the rest of your wedding process with Zola.

Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola