From Contact Form To Contract: Read The Fine Print 

 December 1, 2016

By  Pascal Depuhl

Read the fine print

I recently was hired to create photographs and video for a client. We agreed on number of images and video I was to create in which time for what amount of money, subject to a joint usage agreement. OK. No problem so far. Then I got the agreement and read the fine print.

Here’s what the proposed contract read:

An example of bad fine print

This job was bid out for a specific number of images and videos. This wording in the fine print says I will turn over every photo I take and every frame of footage I capture at the end of the job for future use and on top of that, I will transfer all rights to the client.

Don’t be afraid to say no (in a very nice way)

If you’re in a situation like this, how do you handle this request? Here’s what I did: I went and rewrote the fine print of the agreement, changing the language to grant the client unlimited and exclusive usage to the images a final videos we’re creating for them, which is exactly what they need. I added a line that I may use the material licensed to them for self promotional purposes and that all other usage would need written authorization from the client.

Then I submitted the reworded agreement. I received an email asking for clarification on some other issues, that had nothing to do with the usage, reworked the agreement’s fine print again and received a signed copy today.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make: Just because you’re dealing with a big client, don’t be afraid to negotiate the terms with them. It never hurts to ask. I know many photographers that would have signed the first contract, saying “Oh, well it’s just the way that CLIENT does business and if I want the job, I’ll need to play by their rules.”

Suggest solutions – don’t point out problems

Sure, I could have pointed out why this doesn’t seem fair, but that usually gets you nowhere. Instead submitting a fair change to the agreement, which now reflects what we had talked about in the first conversations gets you much further. Realize that many big companies have boiler plate language in their agreements that may totally not apply to your project. An agreement is a starting point to negotiate from, not the end. And if it is the end remember you always have the right to walk away from the job, before you sign on the dotted line, but never ever neglect to read (and change) the fine print.


Please take the time to read the agreements you’re asked to work under and don’t assume that they were crafted specifically for your project.

Have your own terms and conditions (your part of the fine print) in place and send them to the client with the first document describing scope, time or cost. I don’t send out an estimate without attaching mine, with this job it won’t be my terms and conditions, but the agreement that we’ve crafted together.

Look for a win for both parties and stick to your guns.

No, really it’s ok to turn down work (sometimes you actually have to)

Who isn’t excited about a 5 figure job?

I’ve been working on producing a 5 figure job over the past few weeks, that I was referred to by a friend of mine. Everything looked great, every discussion I had with the client was promising. They liked my work. They were happy with the budget. They were in agreement with the conditions for the job, which we had defined in the fine print of our terms and conditions. They had the money for the 50% deposit. Everything was going smoothly, until [nextpage title=”next”]

I asked for a signature on my terms and conditions and a deposit check.

“We don’t have the money.”

I got an email from this client yesterday late night, saying that they were not able to pull together funding for the shoot.

Sticking to the fine print helped avert a disaster.

Had I taken this job, I would have spend over $10,000 to shoot the job and I have a feeling I would have been chasing that money for a long time. Last time I checked, I was not an investor in their company or a bank.

Truthfully I’m happy to find out before (and not after)

In truth I would much rather get this email 48 hours before the job, than 48 hours after the job. I had already put the brakes on everything, which means reserving hotel rooms and rental cars that had a no cancellation policy; ordering – but not shipping rental gear; letting the crew know that there was a chance that this job was maybe not happening; having insurance riders ready to go – but not issued.

I scouted the site (6 hour drive round trip), discussed the lighting plot with my gaffer, planned the interview questions with my director, discussed camera angles and shot concepts with my camera man, found a caterer, got a liability insurance certificate for the location, discussed access with the owner, …

Turning this job down was not easy, but it was necessary.

Invest your time (it’s necessary), but not your money.

I’m happy to spend significant amounts of time to bid on a job, plan it, scout locations, hire crew, ect., but I had a feeling about this one (I guess doing any thing for 20 years+ years has it’s benefits) and did not spend any money on this production. I had sent the client my line item estimate with the terms to review and had gotten verbal assurances that I was booked on the job and that the deposit checks were ready 2 weeks ago. All in all I have about 4 days of work into this job (before you get upset at me I understand that my time is valuable, but I am willing to and it is necessary to invest your time to bid on a job – bigger jobs just require more time).

Moral of the story:

• Do NOT start spending your money (in this case I would have had to pay around $10K in order to get the job going – that’s travel, hotel, car rentals, insurance riders, rental equipment, meals, …).

• Always get a signed contract and a deposit, before starting a job.

• Stand firm on your policies (you have those right?).

Today, I’m no worse for the wear than 2 weeks ago, when this job popped up on my radar. True, I would have liked to shoot these videos and make the money for doing a job, but honestly I much rather work with clients that are excited about my work and that are chomping on the bit to work together, than to deal with those that are dragging their feet all the way.

Where to go from here?

Truthfully, I’m happy this job did not come through. At the end the client wasn’t telling me what’s going on until the very last minute (and then it wasn’t the person I had been dealing with, but his CFO). I could tell there was a bad taste in his mouth and I had to ask myself: Is that really the kind of foundation I want the shoot to be build on? Probably not.

I’d much rather prefer the new client I met last week. She is so excited about working with me and was bummed to find out that I do video as well, because she had just contracted out a 5 figure video job to someone else. “I’m going to show him your work and tell him to make his look and sound like yours” she told me as she handed me my deposit check for our upcoming photography series. “Oh, and you’re doing our next video.” [As an aside, this is the client I wrote about in “Don’t sign that contract!” Saying ‘No’ does not mean you’re going to loose the job.]

I’d rather work with the still life client I shot for last week. “We love the pictures and we need more.” they emailed me “when can you go on shooting for us?” It’s a lot easier to produce beautiful and creative work, if you have clients who appreciate the work and love working together. In these cases the fine print defined what I was responsible for delivering and what I expected from the client.

Wanna learn some more?

If you’re not sure if you should sign a contract check out “Don’t sign that contract! You have the power to change it!

Sometimes you just gotta turn bad work down (I just turned down a 5 figure job last week). Find out when saying no is sometimes a good option.

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    Pascal Depuhl

    Miami product photographer, video producer, cinematographer and chief mindchanger at Photography by Depuhl I love to share the knowledge I've gained over the past two decades. Catching light in motion.