How Contract Photography Works

We always hammer home the idea that when you click the shutter, you have captured an image and gained the copyright with one finger stroke. That is true, except … when you are working as a contract photographer (also known as work-for-hire photographer) with a written agreement. A contract photographer usually agrees to give up all rights, including copyrights, in exchange for something else of real value — usually money. When the project is finished and you get paid, all images go to the client per the agreement. End of project.

Today, many wedding photographers work under contract. They usually rake in the big bucks, which cover their travel expenses plus time on several different occasions. That may include still and video engagement photos, rehearsal dinner photos, pre-wedding photos, ceremony photos, and lots of candid, photojournalistic shots that capture the spirit of the day. For larger weddings, up to three photographers using drones and more may be required, so everyone has to get paid and reimbursed for their expenses per written agreement. Wedding photographers can get into real money if they have the “know how”  and reputation to do “destination weddings” or other high-profile events that take them to exotic locations.

In the entertainment world, popular figures often want all of their live performances captured for historical purposes and also want to own all rights to all images. A contract photographer gets to enjoy lots of free entertainment but has to give up all images, including his ‘once in a lifetime best shot.’ For that exchange, he or she gets paid extremely well in addition to reimbursement for all expenses.

The key to success as a contract photographer is the contract. Everything must be clearly written: who does what and who gets what. What about travel and other paid expenses? Once that is understood and agreed upon, it can be very lucrative, financially rewarding, and fun.