“I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the value of contracts for real estate photography. I understand why they're needed when shooting for interior designers or architects or any other building contractor type who use our photos to market their businesses. Maybe it's just me and I've been lucky, but in the two years that I've been doing this, I can count on one hand the number of times that an issue has happened that would need a contract to help settle things. The cost and expense of having an up-to-date and validated contract just doesn't make sense to me; especially when so many agents push back on it or ask a hundred questions about it before grudgingly signing it. I just don't think it's worth our time. So, I was wondering what you and your readers thought about this."Leslie, from Jacksonville, FL,
While I think I understand where you're coming from, I'm not sure I agree with you in principle. I'm certainly not a legal expert, but I believe that the purpose of any contract is to establish, in writing, mutual expectations around agreed-upon services/transactions. And yes, I’ve heard a top tier photographer or two state publicly that the depth of the contracts they use for their high-end design & build clients would probably be over the top for standard real estate photography. However, the principle behind having some documented understanding to govern sticky situations is a sound one, whether it be in the form of a formal contract or a basic Terms of Service document.
This is particularly true now when it seems that so many photographers are having their copyrights violated from numerous angles. This includes the practice of sharing photos with third-parties under their presumption of ownership of the photos or having our photos reposted by multiple parties on Instagram--resulting in multiple businesses being promoted--even though we’ve only been paid once.
So yes, maybe you’ve gotten lucky that you haven’t run into many snags in your own career but I have to say that the value of having a contract will be undeniable if (more likely when) you do run into a major violation and/or a disagreement about what you’ve delivered to a client. In my opinion, it’s vital to have agreements in writing, with much focus to be placed on providing crystal clarity related to usage/licensing. I also believe that having this understanding should happen before a photo shoot. In fact, I know many photographers who transmit their terms of service electronically, with a requirement for the client to click to approve or a provide a digital signature of their approval to the terms of the shoot.
If you're wary of the time/effort and perhaps the expense of developing a proper contract, there are numerous online resources available to make the process less painful and expensive. I’ve done some of my own research and here are a few that seem to have decent reviews:
I know that agreements with clients can be a sensitive topic for many in our community, particularly with so much willful copyright violation going on. As such, I’m hoping that PFRE colleagues will share their ideas and solutions that might give you some extra things to think about.