15 Things to Include In a Portrait Photography Contract

A couple of years ago, Sally bought her first DSLR camera. She went to workshops, she took online classes. Sally was producing solid photography. Sally realized she could supplement the family's income with portrait sessions. Based on advice Sally received, she purchased the photography contract bundle from Improve Photography on the cheap.   You should check out the bundle as you will more than likely not find a better deal anywhere else.

A contract, while having somewhat demonic connotations, is actually a great thing to have. Not only do they protect you and the client, but it can help the client further understand what we are producing and delivering. There are several things that you should have in your photography contracts, and there are things that might be inclusive to your business. Here is a list of those things compiled from the IP bundle, and things that I have included in my own contracts.

IMPORTANT: The following article should not be taken as professional legal advice. I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on television or any online series. Before you go forth and do great things with your new photography contract(s), consult with a local attorney.


This is the first block on all of my contracts. This includes the client's name, address, phone number, email address. No frills and pretty simple. That is for the portrait contract involving just one person, say a senior. For weddings, families, and other sessions that involved more than one person, then I will include the same information.


This block is pretty self-explanatory, but this is also where my portrait contracts differ from my wedding contracts somewhat significantly.

This particular section of my portrait contracts stipulates time(s), date(s), and location(s). For some of my intensive senior photography sessions, it will be spread out over time. It also stipulates that I will perform basic digital editing. Short, sweet and to the point.

Even though my scope of work sections differ greatly between the contracts, this is also where you can include what you are going to deliver. Are there prints included in the session? What about digital files? With the wedding contract, I also include the complimentary engagement session. By including all of this information, it helps everyone understand exactly the service you are providing.


This section lays out how much the client will be paying. Also included in this section is deposit/retainer information, deposit policy and can also include the photographer's policy about refunds.

Photography is one of those businesses where several different business models of very differing degrees exist. You might be a photographer who offers a photography session for one price and you turn over a disc or USB drive to the client with all of the images, including print rights. Or you could be a photographer who has just the session price and everything else, including the high-resolution digital images for an additional price. Under the fees  section is where I have all of this lined out so the client understands what they are receiving.

The portrait contracts are simpler in this regard. It is usually one fee for the session and that is it. With my wedding contracts, hours of photography coverage, per hour rate, and total fee are listed in this section.


This can be included in your fee section if you want. In my wedding contracts, refunds are discussed in a separate cancellation section.

WARNING!!! I have read many a discussion about refunds, retainers, deposits and so on with many differing statements. Consult with an attorney to formulate a refund policy that fits your needs and is in agreement with the laws of your locality.


Although I have a separate model release, included in my portrait contracts is a model release. A model release is simply a release that allows the photographer to utilize the images from the session.

Taken straight from the IP Short Form General Contract:

7. Model Release CLIENT grants permission to PHOTOGRAPHER and its assigns, licensees, and sublicensees, permission to use CLIENT’S image or likeness in any and all forms of media for commercial purposes, advertising, trade, personal use, or any and all other uses. Therefore, PHOTOGRAPHER may use CLIENT’S likeness and image on PHOTOGRAPHER’S website or other advertising. PHOTOGRAPHER may sell photos containing CLIENT’S likeness to third parties.

There can be specific stipulations within the model release. In a recent example, even though I can utilize the images from the shoot for promoting my work, I cannot sell the images themselves.


A segue from model release to this section, this is where I include stuff that is specific to the client. Example, you might have a session or wedding where the images cannot be utilized online for a variety of circumstances. There could be a time limit, or it could be forever. This is something that I would highly suggest you have in your contract to protect yourself and the client.


Is it private property? Is a permit required to shoot on the property? Are there certain blocks of time during the day when photography is prohibited? This section specifically lines out that the client is responsible for obtaining all the required permissions and permits.

As the photographer though, I will research if permits are needed. Some cities require permits to shoot in the city parks and buildings. Out west where a lot of public lands is under the management of the federal government, check the location before shooting. On a personal tangent though, I have yet to receive return phone calls or emails from The Bureau of Land Management and The National Park Service regarding permits and I doubt your client will have better luck.  Make sure you do your due diligence about your shooting locations before the session.


This section details what can happen if the subjects to be photograph are not cooperative with the photographer, or if they no show. Late arrivals will happen. In my case, I tend to build in enough time to the session that allows the session to continue. I do read though that photographers who do mini-sessions can have the entire day thrown upside down due to a late arrival. This is something should be covered in your contract.


This is the portion of the article where I am absolutely disingenuous. I do not have this in any of my contracts and as many sessions as I have had affected by weather, I should. Nothing says great photography day like shooting an engagement session right after storm chasing in the same location.

In this section, the rules for dealing with weather are outlined. In one example contract I pulled up, the section stipulates that the session will be rescheduled with no additional charge.


This section is exclusive to my wedding contract. It outlines to the client that depending on the location, there might be some limitations. This can include “no flash” rules, specific off-limits locations.


This section explains to the client that during the session, the setups are not to be photographed by anyone else at the location. It also explains that no one else will get in the way of the photographer during the session. My wedding contract is more detailed as it lines out that the photographer(s) take precedence over every other camera. It also explains that the photographer is not responsible for missed shots because of “paparazzi” wedding guests.


Many clients do not understand copyright law. This is the section where you lay it all out in black and white. This is where it is explained to the client that the photographer owns the copyright to all of the images from the session.


Although I cover this under the COPYRIGHT section of my contract, this can be a separate section. This section will detail how the client can use the images. Did they receive the high-resolution images so they can print themselves? Do they want digitals for sharing on social media? This section can also stipulate if and/or when the client may submit the images to publications.


From time to time, there will be a client that will not be happy with the final results. This section covers reshoots. Fees for a reshoot and specific usage clauses can be found in these sections.


I have seen several different examples on how each photographer treats this. Some will have just one place for a client signature. There are those photographers who will combine several sections and require a client signature. My portrait contract has an initial block after each section. I do it this way so it “forces” the client to read the entire contract. Then at the bottom, I will have a space for the client's full signature.


Like I mentioned from the beginning, I am not a lawyer and your mileage may vary. Best practice is to consult an attorney before you dive off into the world of contracts. If you are in need of a contract bundle, then remember to hit up the Improve Photography store and grab you a set.  If you need some contracts, click on this link to grab a set for cheap from the Improve Photography store.


6 thoughts on “15 Things to Include In a Portrait Photography Contract”

  1. Thanks so much for breaking down your system so thoroughly and completely. That idea about having a signature box at the end of each individual section is genius! I know when I’m filling these out, I almost always skim over stuff that I really shouldn’t. I’ll definitely be using that tip in the future.

    In the “Scope of Work” section, do you stipulate anything along the lines of how much time you will spend on the project, both shooting and editing? In my experience, I’ve found that being very specific and correlating both parties’ expectations can help to clarify people’s questions about pricing and eliminate any potential conflicts later.

    Do you usually sit down with the client to explain all of these elements, or can people usually figure it out well on their own? Some of the topics covered in this post, like permits and copyright law, can be difficult to grasp. (I’m ashamed to admit I need to brush up on a few of them myself.) Having an in-person conversation about a lot of them might be beneficial for that reason.

    1. Sara,

      It all depends. Sometimes, my contracts are sent by email, but I do have a conversation with the client about their understanding of the contract and if there are any questions, then I will answer them. I will usually let them know about how long when it comes to having images ready for review, and detail stuff like copyright just because it can be confusing to a lot of people and a lot of photographers do not do the industry a favor by enforcing their rights.

  2. Very informative article. This is just a thought, I am NOT seeking legal advice or opinion. If I contract with you to take my photograph, Is this not a work for hire? Why do you get the copyright? I realize copyright can be addressed in the contract in a mutually agreeable way through negotiation. I would be interested in hearing others thoughts on this.

    1. Paul Morley, very good question. First off, since I do not know where you are located, my answer is based off United States law so your mileage may vary.

      First off, I will give you this link: https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#106

      In a nutshell though, the creator of the work is the copyright holder. That means whoever pushed the shutter, or applied the brush to the canvas owns that work outright. Where it can get muddied is when the image is of someone else, private property, a brand logo like Coke or if you were creating images for your place of employment while you on the clock. There more instances, but you get the point.

      Where it gets even muddier is a lot of photographers do not understand copyright law and those that do, do not take the time to educate their clients. I see from time to time questions in photography groups from photographers who are confused because they are asked about “rights” by clients. A lot of clients assume “copyright” when the photographer is talking about “print” rights.

      This is why every photographer should be well educated about copyright law in their respective country. They should also have in their contracts blocks that detail what copyright is and what the client will be able to do with the images. In my contracts, I have a section that covers this. Along with this though, I also have the model release block. Even though I own the copyright, the model release has to be agreed to before I can do anything with the image. This needs to be covered in detail with the client if there are any questions.

      1. Stanley,
        Thank you for your reply and the link to copyright. I will read it. For what it is worth, I am outside of Atlanta Ga USA, so it should apply.

  3. Robin McMurry

    I just purchased the Photography Contracts Package. Thank you for making these available, and at a price this new photographer can afford. I do have one question regarding the wording in the Model Release. Will this automatically cover any minors that are included in the shoot? I specialize in family and children natural light portraiture. I want to make sure I’m covered without needing to add “minor specific” wording.


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