Category Archives: Legal

christmas light tutorial (2)

How to photograph your clients wrapped in Christmas lights (or not!)

You don’t.

Yes, I know that they can be super cute – and it is okay for you to do to yourself but for a client? There may come a time that you want to draw the line in the faux snow covering your studio floor.  Some actions are not worth the liability-ridden factor that comes along with them.

Since Pinterest has come around it has brought a lot of photography trends that many of us wish would..just..die. Right?

But that is okay. 

Sometimes giving a little for the client is OK….but here’s some friendly legal advice. NOT WHEN IT HAS A RISK TO IT.

In fact, while I was researching for this article I stumbled across this article showcasing this light-wrapping phenomena, by one of my favorite blogs no less! The more I looked at the images though, I realized something. Wrapping yourself in lights may be dangerous – burns, lead, electrocution, but if you want to do it to yourself – by all means.

But for clients? We need to be a bit more professional and vigilant on protecting our businesses than jumping on board the Pinterest-photography-idea-wagon.

So I’m not here to slam this idea -if you want you can read about the dangers of wrapping clients in lights go here – I’m actually writing to shed light on potential liability ridden requests by clients and give a how-to on handling client requests that may be out of your comfort zone. 


Here’s my advice in a nutshell - (scroll down to get the longer answer to each)

  • You don’t have to take every client or request that comes your way
  • Protect yourself against liability
  • Always carry liability insurance
  • Be knowledgeable


How to handle client requests


Guess what? You’re the business owner.  You don’t have to do any request simply because it is requested.

True story.  Nix that fear of having a client go the other direction and think – if my gut says no, then there is a reason.  This can be the Christmas lights wrapped up, train tracks, or just merely an aesthetic choice that you aren’t into.  

The key is to successfully turn someone away without making them feel alienated but protecting your business.  

Key actions can include:

  • Refer them out – “Unfortunately that isn’t a request that I can handle at this time, but I have a great referral for you” (but make sure you ask the referring photographer if they would be comfortable too!)
  • Offer an alternative – How about we try X – I think we could really come together to create a great session getting close to that result as possible.
  • Simply say no – If you are uncomfortable you don’t have to do it. “I’m sorry but I don’t feel comfortable with that idea. I would still love to be your photographer though!”

It is best to sit down and figure up ahead of time what your response will be so you aren’t caught off guard and/or feel pressured to do something you’re not into.


How can I protect myself against liability?


Again – you’re the business owner – so if you WANT to take on these requests just make sure you’ve put some protections around you.  In fact, this liability protection list is for every photography business owner.  In no particular order.

  • Contract - Always have a contract in place outlining all of your policies and an indemnification policy.
  • Carry liability insurance – Carry the proper liability insurance.  There are a broad range of insurances that every professional should have, liability is just one piece of it.  In fact, many wedding venues and locations will not allow shooting without proof of such insurance.  (Companies include PPA, HartfordHiscox – I don’t endorse any of these over the other – merely providing the information for you to research on your own. Always look at the policy provisions!)
  • Business Formation – Set your business up separate from your personal assets (such as an LLC or Corporation).
  • Think before you act!  Always make sure the surrounding environment is safe, you have informed your clients of all the requisite safety measures and are vigilant during (and immediately surrounding) the session.

If you absolutely must or want to engage in risk-taking behavior with clients make sure you sign a Release of Liability Waiver


Resources to keep you and your clients safe


Completely overwhelmed with business?

BizRevamp returns soon – this webcourse will help give you the information + confidence to run your business the way you want.

Should I hire a CPA or a Lawyer for my Photography Business?

Should I hire a CPA or a Lawyer for my Photography Business?

My husband is great at helping cook, clean and get things ready for my “last-minute-must-throw-a-Pinterest-worthy-party-although-I-didn’t-plan-anything.”  So he ends up bearing the brunt of picking up the food I failed to plan for – and bless him- he tries.  

Yes he’s going to kill me for this sharing this. 

So I’m full out trying to throw this party for guests by setting it up at home, he arrives with all the requested condiments and everything to dress the main dish.  

But when he purchased the main dish he picked up Italian Sausage not Bratwurst.   No, not the end of the world.  But it changed all of the accompaniments and the whole feel for the food that evening.  Pinterest-party-idea-last-minute-change.  Instead of feeling “Oktoberfest”, it was more like a summer day in Italy.

But on the surface they are similar right?

Sausages. Fit in a bun.  Maybe some mustard.  What kind of mustard? What about the accompaniments? Not to mention the different taste preferences of the guests. 

This is very similar to the approach that some business owners take when they are seeking out a professional to help their photography business.  They grab someone licensed (yay!) because the packages look similar and hope they have are the correct main-dish to set the mood of the business and fulfill the preferences and needs at that time.  Except, there is a difference when you have legal questions based on the flavor of the question.



Okay okay, enough of the food analogy.  


Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and Lawyers have the licenses and knowledge to help set up your business – but depending your specific situation you may need a taste of CPA over a lawyer, or vice versa.  

This can also change as business time goes on. 

Here is a basic run down of which professional you should hire for your business based on the need.  If you’re new to setting up your business or want to reevaluate check out this  Checklist here).


CPA and Lawyers Defined

CPAs are Certified Public Accountants that work with a range of financial matters.  These can be individuals, firms or institutions that provide these services.  Typically, you’ll hire a CPA for help with preparing your taxes and financial planning for your photography business.  These individuals offer way more benefits than merely inputting of financial reports, as they are licensed and educated to provide strategy advice and advisement for matters you may approach in your business.

Keep in mind a CPA is a certified and licensed individual.  The terms “bookkeeper” or “tax-preparer” may be erroneously used interchangeably for the designation of CPA- and does not always relay whether an individual try has the licensure or not.

Lawyers are individuals who are licensed at a State level, to practice law.  Lawyers are generally licensed (there are exceptions) but often specialize in the type of cases they take on.  It is important to find a lawyer who is well versed in business transactions to properly and fully assist with your photography business.  I will warn you – you’ll be hard pressed to find lawyers who have run a photography business to give this complete view but we do exist out there!


What to ask a CPA:

  • Best business formation for me (based on taxes)
  • Tax strategy and planning
  • Advisement on tax situations


What to ask a Lawyer:

  • Best business formation for me (based on liability)
  • Contract creation and review (you can also snag templates from TheLawTog for use or to take with you to reduce drafting fees and time!)
  • Advisement on client situations


A Mistake Many Photographers Make

Many times small business owners, especially photographers, are erroneously told to just “hire a CPA” to set up your business.  It is actually recommended to seek out the advisement of both types of professionals, lawyer and CPA.  As you can see from the definitions here, both are licensed but are experts on different matters completely.  

 A CPA may be well equipped to help set up your photography business from a tax standpoint (tax liability, strategy, etc.) but may not be experienced in helping you choose the right business structure for your business – this is where lawyers come in. 

Lawyers are required to study business transactions and this subject is a portion of their licensing exams, therefore, they have the knowledge to provide advisement on legal formation matters.


How do I find these professionals?

It is recommended to always start with word-of-mouth recommendations by other local small business owners.   I have a list of recommended professionals here.

If you don’t know of anyone with a recommendation, start with the State Bar website to search for lawyers in the business arena and check out their credentials.  Simply Google “State name State Bar Association”.  Directories are public and free to search.


Both of these professionals are necessities to business formation and management as they are required to have continuing education to keep their licenses current and up-to-date.  

Always set up review times with these professionals to ensure you’re updated to the most current set of laws and see if changes need to be made as your business grows.

private event photography contract

New: Private Event Photography Contract


This agreement covers important contractual provisions a photography business owner should have to cover themselves legally for a private photographic event. Includes provisions such as: coverage, payment schedule, completion schedule, rescheduling/cancellation,
proofing, artistic rights, etc.

This photography contract is intended for general use for all types – it is not provision specific as the other photography-specific contracts are. This is meant for those who may not necessarily specialize or need a general contract to cover all types.

Model release not included. Must be purchased separately. These contract forms are not state specific as they are drafted on general contract principles and experience as a photography business owner.  They come in .doc format to readily tailor to your business-specific policies.

Snag it here

imitate photography

If I imitate a photography session is that copyright infringement?

I came across a great location and gained permission from the property owner to use it.  A well-known photographer has used that location for a few years.  I have had a wooden swing and this location is the perfect place to put it up and use it.  This same photographer also uses a wooden swing there.  Would I be infringing on her copyright if I use a similar wooden swing in the same location that she does?


Finding a great location is awesome (even better if you obtain permission for a private location) but sometimes the fear of copying someone may come into play.    On the facts of the question above though it can generally be said that this imitation is not a copyright infringement.

Further, locations are not copyrightable.  If we had a situation where a photographer was recreating a specific photo then derivative work liability might attach, depending on the circumstances surrounding the situation.  

Derivative works are a newly created and original work that includes an aspect, or multiple aspects, of an already existing, copyrighted work. (See these resources on Copyright Law for Photographers).  

US Copyright Office Circular 14: Derivative Works notes that:

A typical example of a derivative work received for registration in the Copyright Office is one that is primarily a new work but incorporates some previously published material. This previously published material makes the work a derivative work under the copyright law. To be copyrightable, a derivative work must be different enough from the original to be regarded as a “new work” or must contain a substantial amount of new material. Making minor changes or additions of little substance to a preexisting work will not qualify the work as a new version for copyright purposes. The new material must be original and copyrightable in itself. Titles, short phrases, and format, for example, are not copyrightable.

The more different works are and the most artistic influence a photographer puts on the session, then the less likely derivative work liability would apply.



photography business

Top Mistakes Photographers Make (but you don’t have to!)

Not everyone goes into business having all the answers. Okay I’m sure there is no one.  If you are – simply delete and go on your way!  ;-)  Ah good you’re still here.  I figured you would be.Even if you’ve grown up with a business owner parent, or better yet a photography business owner parent/mentor – there are still things you need to know.  No matter what stage of business you’re in there is something to learn.   

So today let’s go over some top mistakes photographers make in their business.

  • Choosing the wrong business formation - Business formation can have great impact on the liability protection, as well as tax liability (meaning money you do or don’t get to keep) for your business.  You may not be in business and need help.  That stage is super important to have the knowledge in making the right choice.  You may already have been in business for years, but did you know changes occur in your business – and so may the need for the business structure you have. 


  • Not deducting appropriately -  Tons of deductions a year go un-“claimed” resulting in money you could’ve kept in your pocket.  Alot of times this is due to organization even if you have a CPA.  CPAs can only do with what you provide them – you are the first line of organization – make sure you have the knowledge to organize appropriately.


  • Failing to have the right insurance –  I see this all-too-often in forums.  People asking for recommendations on insurance and most only settle on the liability and equipment as suggestions. Yes those are great, but did you know there are up to SEVEN types that your business may need to be protected?  Seriously overwhelming but that doesn’t change the reality of their necessity.


  • Falling into the trap – A common statement that I see from photographers of all stages in business is “I don’t do X that often so I don’t need Y” – and they leave themselves with a huge legal hole and open for potential liability.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking because an action for your business ONCE doesn’t mean you don’t need protection.  Whether it’s a contract written for events, even if you shoot one event.  Or only having an assistant for the day but failing to have in writing expectations and compensation.  Be prepared with the knowledge and tools needed ahead of time so you can make the correct business decisions, instead of off-the-cuff unprotected decisions and actions.


  • No plan or a misguided plan – Wanting to “survive” or “make money” is just the beginning of creating a successful business plan.   There is actually a true method to madness in planning.  Why do you think there are degrees dedicated to business management and planning?  It’s not just choosing an end goal then taking a shot in the dark.  It requires a clear, yet fluid, plan that shapes and changes as your business does as well.  In fact, it was reported in Huffington Post this week that Apple (see article) made more in one quarter of 2014 than Google, Amazon and Facebook combined. They surely didn’t do that without a clear, succinct plan. 

As a lawyer and business consultant I’ve seen these mistakes over and over and over and over…..
In fact, many times I get you guys in my inbox wanting to fix issues after the fact.  My goal is to get myself out there to help so we can prevent or lessen the impact of issues and mistakes such as listed above.  Which is why I (a) have this blog/newsletter and (b) have created BizRevamp.My online Biz Course – BizRevamp is open for limited enrollments.  I seriously LOVE enrollment time because I get a whole host of new victims, I mean photographers, to help with their business.  Thousands have gone through the course and have come out the other side thriving.  

You can snag a sample lesson + information here.

Being on this email list is the first step to protecting your business – I’m still throwing out weekly advice and tips to help you protect your business.

The webcourse, BizRevamp is only for those truly ready to revamp and take their business to the next level.

No matter which you decide is the right path for you and your business at this time, I’ll see you right here next time!