This week my local wedding boards were abuzz. A woman had come forward, livid at another photographer in our area (whom I will not name for my own legal protection.) The photographer had taken a deposit from her, double booked the date and refused to give her the deposit back. The most shocking part of the whole tale for me was that the bride had given this woman money before signing a contract, which led me to the conclusion that perhaps contracts are shrouded in a tiny bit of mystery. But they don't have to be!
1- Who should provide a contract? If you are hiring a service (photographer, videographer, florist, caterer, venue, etc) they should provide a contract. All reputable companies will sign a contract before any money is exchanged hands. Definitely do not send anyone money before signing a contract with them, as this legally protects the money you're using to hire the service.
2- What should a photography contract contain? There are a lot of important things that should be in a legal photography contract, and you should always read the entire thing and initial the pages stating that you read them.
a- An itemized list of what you are getting. How long are the photographers staying? What products are included with the shoot? How long will you be expected to wait for delivery on average? Make sure everything is clearly listed.
b- A backup plan. Does the photographer guarantee a backup if they're too injured to shoot? It should definitely include the promise of a backup.
c- Their money back situations. In what situations are you eligible to get your money back? Is the deposit refundable? Generally the deposit is non refundable if the client has to cancel the event, but we refund if we have to cancel on our end. If they don't promise to give back a deposit if they have to cancel the event, I'd be a little suspicious of their intentions.
d- The litigation situations. What damages is each party responsible for? In our contract, for example. we're not responsible for ruined photos due to the actions of guests or other vendors (not that that's ever been a problem to date, knock on wood.)
3- Always get a copy. Generally we sign our contract, and I go home, immediately scan it and email a PDF copy to the client. If requested, I'll bring an extra copy and we'll sign two copies so we each get one immediately. I've never had a problem with either method, but it's up to you.
4- Sign with a witness. I recommend signing the contract when there's a witness (usually your partner) present. I generally bring Amanda to booking sessions for this reason as well. The more people who see it being signed protects you if an unscrupulous vendor decides to not give you a copy of the contract in order to get your money.
5- Never give money before signing. Never never never give money before signing the contract. I cannot say that enough. A contract is your legal proof as to why you gave a vendor money, so if they do what is currently going on with the dismayed bride mentioned above, you have a solid legal argument to get that money back.
6- Get receipts if you pay in cash. When you pay by etransfer, cheque, or credit card, there's a receipt automatically generated by the bank or square (the platform we use for credit card processing), but we always provide an additional rteceipt if requested. However, when you pay in cash, definitely be sure to get a receipt when you're handing over the money, preferably in a method that gives both you and the vendor a copy, so you have proof that money exchanged hands.
Those are the basics for contracts. It's really easy to go and read a few examples of contracts online if you wanted to check out what might be in one. But the best advice I can give is to go with your gut. If what the vendor is promising seems to be above and beyond what they're charging, or they aren't providing adequate documentation, I'd recommend looking elsewhere.