As a photographer, the written contract is one of the most important tools you have in business to not only protect yourself, but your business.
We have all had those photo shoots with friends or family that we do photo shoots for and never have them sign a contract, a photo release, etc. Why is that you may ask, you may ask yourself why you would ever have your family sign a contract. If you think that your family would never sue you, you need not look further than the news on a regular basis.
While I have made this mistake before, and sometimes still do so, I have seen time and time over again the issues in the industry of working without a contract. I ask myself why I as a business owner would even do this to myself. Why would I not have a contract that protects me and my business? Do I do it because I'm lazy or just don't see the need? Then I remember that the cost alone of a lawsuit could be terrible for my business and its reputation.
What would happen to you if a client sued you over a job gone wrong, or you had to file suit against a client over payments not received? Do you have an agreement in writing on how the photos can be used or who has the rights to them? Do you have it in writing how and when payment is expected, along with what if any penalties apply for late payments?
With all that said, you may think that you need to draft these huge contracts every time you take on a photography job. That is far from the truth. Most contracts can be edited to fit the needs of you and your client and most of them only require minor modifications from job to job. Aside from that, there are also numerous website that you can download (for free) contracts that can be modified for your own use. So if they are free why aren't you using them? These are a strong tool and a way to protect yourself and your rights as a photographer.
With all that said, I hope you go out and look at your options for protecting yourself and your business investment. This also shows clients that you are serious about your business. So there is no downside to utilizing these.
Get out there, make money, and get those signed contracts!