Should I have a provision in my weddings contracts that covers actions which are outside of my control? For instance, how to deal with wedding guests who 'play photographer' and may interfere with a critical shot?


Your question is about two separate clauses, and I believe they both should be in a well formed wedding photography contract.

Exclusivity clauses will point out that the hired professional is the exclusive photographer for the event. Clients take responsibility for notifying guests that they must not interfere with the paid photographers duties. This does not prevent them from photographing at all, but they must make every effort possible not to interfere. An exclusivity clause may also give a certain pose or session to the photographer on their own. Many times you will see the formal wedding portrait time given exclusively to the paid photographer so guests are not distracting eyes and preventing the professional from completing the shots required.

An example:

EXCLUSIVITY / GUEST PHOTOGRAPHY: It is understood that PHOTOGRAPHERS NAME will act as the sole and exclusive wedding photographer. Because of the fact that flashes from guest’s cameras may ruin shots taken by PHOTOGRAPHERS NAME, THE CLIENT acknowledges that they are responsible for notifying all of their guests that guest photography must not interfere with the professional photographer’s photo taking. The formal photography time is for the exclusive use of PHOTOGRAPHERS NAME to capture the formal wedding portraits. Because of time constraints and the need for subjects to pay full attention to the professional photographer, guest photography must be deferential to the professional photographer. Guest photographers are not permitted on the location shoots as per the wedding schedule.

The first item you bring up is very vague. Items outside your control could mean any number of different things. Should your contract give clauses to prevent liability in case of fire, acts of god, or other incidences? I believe that it should. These are not considered part of what you can control. One such example would be a clause that prevents you from returning the deposit if the weather cancels the event. The weather is not under your control, but you may want to keep the deposit.

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    In my experiences, you rarely have trouble with other photographers at weddings. Once in a while they get in the way, but for the most part they are friendly and just want to talk equipment with you. But covering your ass is exactly what a contract is for. So I don't see a reason why not to include details on acts of god and guest behavior.
    – dpollitt
    May 12 '11 at 19:59
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    My favorite was the other Nikon shooter who had his flash set to slave mode on the channel I was using. His flash never fired when he shot, just when I shot. Glad I was chimping-- I was able to catch the problem before too many shots were ruined.
    – mmr
    May 13 '11 at 22:31

I do have various clauses, 'act of god,' 'exclusivity of photographer,' etc. as others have outlined in their answers, and (assuming you're based in the US, YMMV if you're elsewhere) you should have these sorts of clauses too, if nothing else for the following reasons...

Unlike many of the photographers I personally know in the city I live and work, I walk through each and every clause in my contract with the bride and groom, in person, before anyone signs anything. Each bride and groom get's 'the talk' which gives me the opportunity to bring the contract out of the realm of 'legal mumbo-jumbo' for the client, and into the 'how does this apply to me?' realm. Often this gives them the opportunity to handle any problems or prepare a 'Plan B' without me having to do anything else.

For example, I sat down for a contract signing with a couple earlier today and when we talked through what I affectionately call my 'what happens if it is raining at your outdoor wedding' clause. Turns out that they had no Plan B in place, and now they're planning for the 'just in case' scenario. That's a clause of my contract that I will never have to act upon because of a little up-front talk...

I have only had to invoke my 'Uncle Bob the annoying amateur photographer' clause twice in my career, but both times the conversation was me discreetly pulling aside the groom at a lull in the photography explain the situation, and remind him of the clause in the contract. On both occasions the groom then pulled aside a trusted person and that person discreetly took care of the problem. Again, it wasn't a big deal... because we'd already discussed the points of the contract in detail months before, and they were able to see that having 'Uncle Bob' out of the way was benefiting them.

I think that the photographer who just hands a couple a contract, expects them to read it, and completely understand all the implications of what they're signing with no additional detail is just asking for problems when and if a problem arises. Too many photographers I know are simply afraid to talk about the contract and the things that are in it for fear that doing-so may 'taint the deal.' On the contrary, in more than 15 years of professional wedding photography I've never lost a client to going over the contract, never been sued, never had to sue, etc. and I think one of the major reasons for that is simply understanding that even totally reasonable things sound underhanded when put in legalese! By explaining things to clients in plain English I bring everything back into the realm of 'what is reasonable and beneficial for both me and the client,' and reasonable clients don't have problems with my provisions as a result.

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    I think that walking clients through the whole thing shows really professional style, and I will endeavour to do likewise from now on. I can see that your actions have turned things from being a big legal problem to being not a problem at all. Nice. Thanks for the advice.
    – AJ Finch
    May 13 '11 at 15:14
  • I agree with this completely. This is how I handle my contracts as well, and have actually had a bride walk away from the table because she didn't want to give up her deposit in the 'act of god' case. I'd rather end that business relationship that way than having to follow through with litigation...
    – mmr
    May 13 '11 at 22:30
  • @mmr: Totally. I'd much rather nip a business relationship in the bud before I 'get into bed' with a client that isn't a good fit (either for them, or for me). Far less time consuming, and potentially costly that way. May 13 '11 at 22:44

There's some great advice in the other answers. One clause you might want to add is one that specifies that you aren't liable for any restrictions imposed by the venue. If the bride hired you based on some neat lighting effect you are known for, but you show up and the church officiant decides he won't allow any flash photography, you don't want to be on the hook for the situation.

The clause I use reads as such:

VENUE RESTRCTIONS - The Photographer is limited by the guidelines of the event venue and site management. The Client agrees to accept the technical results of their imposition on the photographer. Negotiation with the officials for alteration of guidelines is Client’s responsibility; Photographer will offer technical recommendations only.

  • I like this one, it's one I never would have thought of until I was stuck in the situation. May 12 '11 at 21:35
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    Priests, ministers, and the like often impose limits on what you can and can't do during the ceremony. It is always a good idea to make sure that the B&G understand that one up front, because most of them have no idea. Good addition to the discussion ahockley.
    – dpollitt
    May 12 '11 at 21:37
  • This is very good advice. Having to shoot everything from a balcony on a tripod with what is essentially a telescope does limit the kind of shots the couple can get, through no fault of the photographer.
    – mmr
    May 12 '11 at 22:29

Yes, absolutely.

My contract specifies:

  1. I am employed by the bride and groom, not the mother-in-law or anyone else. I only follow their directions.
  2. People who run into a formal shot will delay the shot
  3. Snap-happy uncles need to be handled by another relative (I tend to use my assistant for this task, to distract them while I get what I need, or to say 'look at me, then look at him')
  4. If I cannot be present because of illness, etc, I will find a replacement who will be my subcontractor (ie, no extra cost to the couple).
  5. Acts of God mean that I don't refund the deposit, but I don't charge for the rest of the time either (ie, canceling because of tornadoes means I won't charge).
  • 1
    Spot on mmr. In Minnesota here, weddings get cancelled all the time for crazy snow storms. I think it is fair to hold onto the deposit. The B&G usually reschedule with me at a later date anyways.
    – dpollitt
    May 12 '11 at 20:01
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    What about if you, the photographer, are taken ill last minute, or car breaks down and are either late or miss the ceremony?
    – MikeW
    May 12 '11 at 22:24
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    Last minute = find a replacement fast (and I know several people for this kind of thing-- nothing's a guarantee, but it's good to know them). Car breaks down = scramble to get help, or call a cab and leave the car behind until it can get handled. I always aim to be there many hours ahead of time, and if locations are moved in the middle (ie, shoot prep in one place and then ceremony in another), well, I haven't had a problem with transportation yet (knock on wood...)
    – mmr
    May 12 '11 at 22:28
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    "... many hours ahead of time ..." amen to that! That single precaution can save many many tears!
    – AJ Finch
    May 13 '11 at 15:18

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