During the years I’ve spent shooting assignments for clients as a photographer, I’ve learned quite a bit about clear communication and setting terms when drafting an agreement. This post is part checklist for my own use, and part educational for brands reading along.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive or complete list of all things clients and photographers could possibly discuss. Instead, consider this as the bare essentials, with more specific terms added depending on the size, complexity and specific niche of the photoshoot.
In my opinion, this should always come first, especially before discussing any fees. The style of the shoot determines everything else, including location, light and retouching. Some things that should at least be discussed, but preferably written down in an agreement, whether that be an official contract or just a PDF or email summarising the things the client and their photographer talked about:
- Simply put, what will the photographer be shooting?
- What should be the style of these images? Try to make this as specific as possible and include some images. Specifically, discuss details that could inform the location, use of light and use special objects.
- What are some elements that should be in the frame, and which elements should definitely not be in the frame? Think of logos, parts of the environment or people unrelated to the shoot.
- How many photos will the client be needing?
- How will the client be using these photos? This could be online or print, vertical or horizontal or anything else that could inform how the images should be shot.
These are the down to earth specs of the actual photo shoot and include crew, gear, time and location:
- Who should be present for this photoshoot? In addition to the photographer, this could include models, a make up artist, stylist and a photographer’s assistant. Adding any of this crew to the roster for the shoot will influence the final price.
- Will the photos be requiring any special gear? The choices discussed for the brief will inform the answer to this question. If special light is to be used, additional gear may have to be rented. The same holds true if the final images are to be printed large, on a billboard for instance.
- Where will the shoot take place? In case a studio is rented, this will have to be included in the fee. If travel to a location is involved, this will inform the bottom line as well.
- When will the shoot take place?
Before the final photos are delivered to the client, an additional set of questions have to be answered. This should be done before finalising the agreement, as the answers could have a drastic effect on the time the photographer will spend on the assignment. Additionally, setting some clear deadlines will allow photographers to best please their clients and not be forced to work through the night in order to meet an unexpected deadline.
- What kind of retouching will the images be needing? For most of my own shoots, I stick with global adjustments and removing major blemishes or distractions in the photos. In specific cases though, I will spend some more time on the image in Photoshop. In case a client asks for a large set of images to be treated to extensive retouching, the fee will have to be set higher accordingly. In addition, client and photographer should discuss the level of retouching the client feels comfortable with. It is my personal opinion that photos of athletes should not be treated with too much retouching, as this takes away from the credibility of the image. These are athletes, not models.
- When should the final images be delivered?
- How should the final images be delivered? I personally deliver my files as JPG files at both maximum resolution and a resolution optimal for posting on Facebook. Some clients will require PSD of TIFF files, while some will even ask for RAW files, though this is not generally accepted. Finally, I usually send my images using WeTransfer, but in specific cases I will opt for a USB thumb drive or even a hard disk.
- Some clients will want to receive some quick results from the photoshoot to post on social media or send to people involved with or interested in the shoot. This could include people present at an event or possibly an external client that commissioned an agency to produce the shoot with a photographer. If a client requires quick results like these, this should be communicated in advance so the photographer can plan for it accordingly.
Numbers and legal
Now comes the boring but essential stuff. The clients and their photographer need to agree on the exact deal they’ll be making. What is the client paying the photographer, and what will they be getting in return?
- How will the client be using the images? Will they be used for just a quick post on Facebook, or will they instead be used for a worldwide campaign in print? This will inform the rights the photographer will lend the client for the images. Licenses could include using the images just a single time for a specific use, setting a term on how long the images can be used, or just giving the client the right to unlimited use. I generally don’t like to complicate this too much, and for most clients I’m fine with them using the images as they see fit.
- What will happen in case the shoot is cancelled? In sports, bad weather can ruin a photoshoot, as is true for many other niches. Client and photographer should agree on a contingency plan in case the shoot has to be cancelled or rescheduled. I’ve personally never had any trouble with this, and have always been able to work something out with my clients ad hoc. Still, for bigger shoots where a photographer may have already spent both time and money preparing, it should be clearly stated how they will be compensated for this in case the shoot doesn’t happen.
- Finally, now that it is very clear what exactly the client will be needing and what the photographer will be providing, a fee can be negotiated. Of course it wouldn’t make any sense for me to go into specific numbers here. This fee should be as clear and comprehensibly specified as possible though. There should be no doubt whatsoever what the client will be paying their photographer. Clearly state whether the fee includes VAT, travel, lodging, gear rental and food on location. In case of overtime or reshooting, will the photographer be compensated? In addition, what are the payment terms for paying the invoice?
Closing thoughts on clients and photographers collaborating
I should probably add that I don’t go through all of these questions for every single assignment I do. With some of my repeat clients, I have a mutual understanding about the answers to many of these questions, while for some specific assignments not all of points put forward above will be relevant. In the end though, this is a good checklist that both photographers and clients can use in order to avoid any misunderstandings and disappointed faces in the process of producing some visual magic together.
For more of my thoughts on the collaboration between clients and photographers, read these five tips for clients working with photographers.
As my portfolio does not include any images of clients talking with photographers (nor will it ever), the images included with this article includes some images I shot for Adidas with their sponsored athletes Shauna Coxsey and Loïc Timmermans. This was actually an assignment where I got quite a bit of creative freedom, with the client caring most for giving a faithful but slightly heroic impression of these climbers.