How long should I keep photography contracts?

Jan 21, 2016

Topic: Contracts
Time Investment: 5 Minutes
Suggested Product: All-in-One Contract Bundles


Having photography contracts is critical to relay information to clients, to set expectations, to define the relationship and for the protection of your business – but what happens when you want to clean up your office or digital workspace?   

At TheLawTog®, we spend an immense amount of time teaching photographers how to use contracts, provide contract templates and information on provisions included in the contracts.  

But we don’t stop there – we want to make sure you are protected through the entire process.  

Contracts aren’t just a first step in the client process, they work through the entire relationship and beyond delivering of files.  Here are recommended ways to use and backup your contracts as well as guidelines for how long you should keep them around.


Use Digital

Whenever possible, use digital photography contracts in your business.  Not only does it save trees, but it saves time (for you and the client), as well as increases efficiency for the workflow.  

See also: Are digital photography contracts legal?

Spoiler: yes digital contracts are legal

When you use a digital system it avoids the “your file is too large” error when attaching to an email, alleviates the client having to seek out a printer/scanner and sending the contract back, and also takes away a step in the filing process.  


Recommended systems:

If you haven’t been using a digital contract signing system, have no fear – you can scan and get them backed up into your chosen backup system.


Always Back Up

Receiving the contract is not the end of the process – you need to be able to easily store, and quickly locate the contract should an issue arise.  

Backing up should always work in the rule of three – have at least three backups of your files, with one in an off-site location. 


Recommended backup systems:

  • Backblaze – automatically backs up your entire computer and external hard drives to a cloud
  • Dropbox –  can automatically back up all documents put into this 
  • External hard drive – physical backup – never rely on this alone!


If you are using an online system, many have a backup system as well – but it is always best to not count on that one backup, remember that is violating the rule of three backups.  

For example, if you use Gravity Forms for your WordPress site, if a backup system is set up, your documents may be included, however, it is recommended to set up a routine export of your Gravity Forms data and utilize one of the recommended systems I’ve mentioned here.


Rule of Thumb

At this time of technology, digital files of documents (PDFs especially) take up such a minor amount of space that they should be kept as long as possible.  You always hear people say the “rule of thumb” for taxes is seven years.  

While that probably is a good length of time to keep the documents, in my opinion, longer is always better.  There is a high probability that any issues or claims necessitating contract reference would have been brought to light before seven years, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe. 

So bottom line? Try to keep it as long as you can – because you just never know –  seven years is probably a good time frame, but…don’t hold me to that! I’ve shown you the benefits and ease of keeping it longer!


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