“Would you be my emergency coverage if I ever needed it for a wedding?” I asked a fellow photographer friend a couple years ago. “Of course!” she said and that was that. I had all my ducks in a row and would just call her if anything ever happened where I couldn’t make it to a wedding. At the time I felt relieved knowing I had someone I could trust to handle my business for me in one of those worst-case-scenarios. I felt confident that I was planning for the future and wouldn’t ever need to worry.
I was wrong. It wasn’t until last weekend where I was in the situation of being the emergency wedding coverage that I realized a simple “of course” needed to be so much more! At about midnight last Friday night my awesome photographer friend messaged me on Facebook saying, “Hey, are you awake?” I was about ready to go to bed, but I was curious so I answered. Turned out it wasn’t her at all, but her boyfriend. To make a long story short she was in the hospital and had two weddings this weekend that she wasn’t going to make it to.
Okay, after the initial panic knowing how I would feel if I was in her shoes her boyfriend and I took to making a plan for at least Saturday’s wedding (less than 12 hours away). Luckily it was one of the rare weekends during wedding season where I wasn’t booked. I knew I could take the Saturday wedding easily, but the Sunday wedding would require some rescheduling and generous flexibility on the part of my other clients.
It was a bit of an insane weekend for me. I worked the wedding on Saturday meanwhile trying to find someone good who could cover Sunday’s wedding. Everyone was booked, out of town, unavailable or otherwise engaged so that left me and another photographer friend who was getting over a cold. Together we decided to tag-team Sunday’s wedding since it was such a long day with 400 guests.
My weekend basically got turned upside-down by taking over her two weddings, but I’m so glad I did. I’m also incredibly thankful that my portrait session on Sunday night was flexible enough to reschedule for the sake of ensuring a couple had wedding photography!
The entire weekend really made me think about how I should really be more prepared for such an emergency if it were to happen to me. I can’t imagine my husband digging through my computer, emails and everything trying to find the right information and connecting to my other photographer friends. So, here’s a few tips and things I’ll be implementing into my own wedding photography business just to ensure things are always going to go as smoothly as possible!
1. Print out wedding day schedules and client contact information in advance. I’m going to start printing and leaving out a paper copy with all of my client’s contact information, payments due, and wedding day schedule so it’s easy to find in case of an emergency.
2. Make an emergency wedding photographer phone tree. Keep a list of contact information for all your second shooters and other wedding photographers you know so your spouse can quickly access them and know who to call. Keep this info on PAPER! Don’t hide it in your computer where it might not be easily accessed.
3. Find an emergency wedding buddy. Pick a photographer in your network who you are especially close to. Maybe someone who second shoots for you often or you for them. I know a lot of my friends and I trade off second shooting for each other so we have someone equally as skilled with us at our wedding days. Pick one of those people who knows your business as well as you do take them out to lunch and ask them to be your emergency wedding buddy. That person can be at the top of your phone tree and the first person your spouse calls in an emergency. That person you can pay to take care of your business. Even if they’re not available to cover your wedding, they’ll call everyone in your network and find someone to be there, pass along client information, notify your clients, and do all the behind the scenes work that comes with coordinating emergency coverage (and believe me there’s surprisingly a lot). Make a plan with your friend for what you’d want done in your absence and put it in writing, so it’s somewhere you can find. It’d be good to keep all this information in a folder somewhere that’s easily accessible so it’s all in one place.
4. What about the final payments due? If the photographer you are filling in for is in the hospital leave the final payments between their clients and the original photographer. This past weekend I just let them all know that any other payments need to be settled up with the original photographer. That takes the pressure off you for accepting payment in their stead.
5. How much should you pay? Decide with your emergency wedding buddy how much you will pay for someone to take your place and add this into your written paper copy of emergency plans. That way when your buddy gets the word out to find a photographer for you, they already know how much to expect to be paid. I would say that typically you should pay more than you would pay a second because that person is coming in your place as a primary photographer. It’s hard to provide a specific amount, but agree on something in advance with your buddy that seems fair.
6. Don’t worry about the editing, unless you have to. As long as the original photographer will get better in the near future plan on not taking over the editing process. Other situations may require editing, but typically with a wedding you just want someone to go there in your place, take photos, and if you can edit them later in a timely fashion then at least you can still put your stamp and style on the editing and provide the clients with a more consistent experience.
7. What should I expect from the clients? The clients are most likely going to be incredibly thankful that a replacement is at their wedding. As long as there is a replacement, they are going to be the hero of the day. Obviously the clients will feel torn with concern over their photographer’s well being in an emergency, but also worried about their wedding too. If you are going to be the replacement just remind them that you are experienced with weddings, you’ll have everything taken care of and to enjoy the day. Give them a call as soon as you can to let them know about the situation so they have as much notice as possible.
Knowing that an emergency could happen at any time and your clients could be stranded without a wedding photographer is a reality. If you can’t find coverage you’re risking losing business, being sued and all kinds of ugly nasty stuff that nobody wants to happen. One of the reasons we shouldn’t be so competitive with our neighbors is because we need to network and rely on each other for help, emergencies, and support in many situations. Hopefully everyone will be going out for coffee now and finding their emergency wedding buddy!