Hide the Artist. Bring out the Nerd (just for a minute)

GUEST POST: We’re excited to introduce a new series to The Milky Way…’Getting Down to Business’ by our guest blogger, Erin Brule.

With a Commerce degree tucked into her camera bag, Erin naturally found herself drawn to the business side of things, and wanted to help other new photographers  start their journey on the right foot to avoid the ‘grumpy, burned-out photographer syndrome’

In the first part of this 5-part series, Erin is going to give us some info on the DRY topic of contracts, policies, and model release forms!


You are an artist.  You live for creating art.  You love watching your vision come to life.  You relish in seeing your client’s eyes light up the first time you see their photos.

But alas, there is also that ‘other’ side of your photography business….you know…the, uh…’business’ part?

Cutie pie, Milk and Honey PhotographyFor a lot of photographers it is the least fun part of their business.  Perhaps that describes you?

Doesn’t matter.  Love it or hate it, you HAVE to deal with it.  (unless of course, you have hired someone else to deal with it for you!)

So, no stomping your feet.  No burying your head in the sand hoping it will magically take care of itself.

Let’s talk business.

And…to give you system a real shock, we’re jumping right to contracts, model release forms and policies! (hey, I was going to ease in slowly, but Lisa said she was getting lots of requests for these topics, so here we are…I promise the next post in the series won’t be so dry…or long!)

Now, I’m not sure what it is about the photography industry that people get up in arms about contracts.  But they do.  And as a result.  They don’t HAVE any contracts in place.

Confession.  I was guilty of this…completely.  For me, it’s not that I thought contracts made my business seem less ‘friendly,’ I was just being lazy.

“Oh…I don’t need a contract!  I trust my clients, they trust me.”  or
“I’ll deal with that situation if it ever comes up”

Luckily, YOU’RE not lazy, right?

Because, we have to remember, life happens.  Maybe you drop your camera on the way to your session (in fact, maybe you drop both cameras…or run over your camera bag).  Maybe you get sick.  What if your dog eats your memory card after a session. You deliver your images to your client, who then uploads some of your shots to a Stock image library.  Or, maybe they start asking if you have additional photos you could provide.

Perhaps your bride suddenly asks if you could stay an extra 4 hours at her wedding reception, because her husband and his best men are going to perform  an exciting rendition of ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It.’  Seriously.  It happens.

So, you see, there are LOTS of reasons you want to have contracts in place.
And only one reason not to….laziness.

But first….a BIG DISCLAIMER:

During workshops someone usually asks, “Did you get a lawyer to do your contracts?”  The answer is no.  But, I’m also someone who has been known to dye her own hair to save a few bucks, and it turned green.  So, don’t assume you should follow my lead!

I am not a lawyer.  This is NOT legal advice.  In order to have iron-clad contracts in place, the prudent step would be to seek legal advice to get help drawing up your contracts.  What follows below is just a guideline of what to consider putting in your contracts  and model release forms.  Also note: copyright laws vary from country to country…and perhaps even within a country.

Please repeat after me…I understand that Erin is not a lawyer and the information that follows is not intended to be or portrayed as a legal document.

(save yourself some time, and check out TheLawTog.com – they have an array of done-for-you contracts…although the prudent step is still to have a lawyer familiar with laws in YOUR area to look over it!)

Policies – your studio policies are there to help your studio run smoothly.  They are there to help you, your staff and your clients understand ‘the rules.’  It is GOOD to have policies. And it is good to include many of these policies in your contracts.

It doesn’t mean you might not occasionally ‘break’ a policy or two…but, keep this in mind – while you might think you are doing a favour to one client, perhaps by changing your print order minimum, you are being unfair to other clients that were expected to respect those minimums.  You also have set yourself up for this particular client to expect special treatment.  Good luck asking for the print minimum next time they book with you.

Contracts – NOT just for wedding photographers!
In your contracts you want to be sure to cover these main topics (this list is by no-means exhaustive, and we do delve into more details of each in the e-book).

1. Contact information for your Studio & Your Clients (easy one!)
2. Session Appointment Information (start AND stop times, when should clients arrive)
3. Price & Deliverables (you want to think about what is included.  Order minimums.  Re-order minimums.)
4. Payment Terms (plus deposit or retainer amounts)
5.  Delivery Date of Proofs/Files & Length of Ordering Window
6. Image Rights (for Both Parties)
7.  Other things to consider: rules about other photographers being present, consequences of breaking the contract (either you canceling on the client or vice versa)

sample model release form - photographersModel Release Forms – why do you want them?
As a photographer, you likely want the ability to showcase your work on your website, on facebook, in print ads, on postcards.  Perhaps you would like to enter an image into a photo competition.  By getting ALL your clients to sign a model release form as part of your studio workflow, you ensure you have the ability to use the image as you wish – WITHOUT a client seeking financial compensation after the fact.  Also, if you have the dialogue with your client ahead of time, you keep lines of communication open.

Make sure your model release form has your studio name, client name, signature, address, phone number and date (and if they are under 18, a guardian signature as well)

I HAVE had clients decline signing the model release form (only 2).  I simply made note of that in my client file – and marked the folder with a ‘NO MODEL RELEASE’ tag.

Click here for a sample model release

So, I encourage you to start seeing “policies” as your friends, and start implementing them into your business today!  Because, if YOU don’t run your business, your BUSINESS will run you!

(again, Rachel Brenke of the LawTog is both a photographer AND a lawyer…check out her contracts here!)
Next up in the series, we’ll take a step WAY back and talk about the ‘WHY’ in business.  As in…’WHY’ do you want to have one.  It’s really important.  Trust us.

share the love



  1. Kam on May 23, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Wow, thanks for the great tips & the business form! Looking forward to part 2 of the series!

  2. Carrie Vines on May 24, 2012 at 5:37 am

    Looking forward to this series.. your timing is perfect!! This is just what I needed. 🙂

  3. Carol on May 24, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Thank you for this, am just starting out so am learning everything on my own as I go 🙂 so thanks again looking forward to more of your business tips . Have a great one now

  4. Jessica Mezzadri on May 25, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Thank you sooooo much!!!!! Great advise.

  5. Rebecca on May 25, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Thank you so much for this! You are soooo generous! xo

  6. Jo on May 30, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for pulling my head out of the sand – I really need more consistency and to make sure I protect (and value) my time and skill (basically my business!). Clients are beautiful, but they will take what they can get for as little as they can get it, it’s human nature. Thanks!

Leave a Comment