“You’re probably wondering why I have called you here today…”
It’s because you’re in trouble.
Well, you might be in trouble.
If you’re a wedding photographer, you might not be doing everything you can to do your job responsibly, and people’s wedding photos might be at stake.
And I want to help you. I stand for my industry when I say, please read this and please take your job as a wedding photographer seriously.
So what qualifies me to write this? Well, I recently took an assessment and read a book called StrengthsFinder. The assessment helps you discover your natural talents, then the book tells you how to develop them. One of my top five strengths was “Responsibility.” It basically means I do what I say I’m going to do, and I’m committed to being loyal and honest. It’s kind of boring, but I’m very responsible. :)
After discovering this about myself, I’ve had a series of random conversations with other photographers that have lead me to understand that people without this strength might not be acting as responsibly as they could be when photographing weddings. This makes me VERY NERVOUS! I take my responsibility as a wedding photographer VERY seriously. The wedding day has no do-overs and there’s just so much that can go wrong, and trust me, I’ve heard some absolute horror stories about wedding photography mishaps.
So being the responsible wedding photographer AND photography mentor that I am, I thought it might be good for me to share some of my “Responsibility Strategies” here on my blog. Think of is like a Public Service Announcement for wedding photographers. Some of these are basic, but some are more in depth, some I’ve learned by way of hard knocks, some are just my nature. I’ve given bits of this advice to photographers before, who didn’t heed it, and who regretted it. Don’t be that person. :)
I’m going to go somewhat in order of the wedding process, just to give flow to my thoughts. However, the last one is one of the most important, so please stay with me and read them all.
1. Cover Yourself with a Contract
This is a big one, and most photographers just starting out usually don’t use a contract. Even if the wedding is for your very best friend, you NEED a contract. Contracts will cover you legally, and also define the terms of your photography coverage. It’s too easy, especially with friends, to make casual agreements that become big misunderstandings (and friendships can be lost). You can buy a contract on the Photographer’s Tookit site, or get a free one from the Tofurious site (though you do have to give your email address.)
Photographer Gary Fong recently shared about a photographer in the US who is being sued for $300K. The guy has no contract and his client is a lawyer – recipe for disaster! It fired Gary up, and if you can stomach a little cursing and crass gesturing, you can watch the video here. This should make any photographer vow to never work without a contract again. Unfortunately, these kinds of law suits are becoming more common.
2. Be Sure You Have Backup Gear
I understand that photographers who are just starting out don’t have a lot of money to invest in gear. However, having backup gear is not a luxury but a necessity if you are going to photograph someone’s once in a lifetime event! I have heard first hand stories of cameras failing, shutters falling apart, and have had my own camera/lens accidents and failures at weddings. Things happen. Weddings are uncontrolled, whirlwind events and Murphy’s Law often comes into play – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”.
If you can’t afford to buy a second camera, rent one. This is NOT OPTIONAL! You MUST have quality backup gear. This is true for lenses as well. You should have more than one lens and your backup lenses should be of the same quality as your primary lenses.
3. Dress Like a Wedding Guest
This sounds like it should be a no brainer, but this is a story I hear all too often from people who have worked with other photographers or been at weddings where another photographer was working – the photographer was dressed inappropriately. In several cases, I heard that the father or mother of the bride wished they could have sent the photographer home to change. How embarrassing and unprofessional!
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT show up in jeans and a t-shirt. Or yoga pants (unless you are very pregnant – Beka!) Guys should wear dress pants and a button down shirt. Women should wear dress pants and a dressy shirt, or a dress/skirt (which I’ve started wear, wow – SUPER COMFY!). No tennis shoes. The exception to these guidelines would be if it was a stated casual wedding where the guests will all be wearing jeans and/or yoga pants. ;)
4. Always Plan to Arrive Early
I always plan to be 30 to 45 minutes early. Depending on the distance, sometimes even earlier. I hate starting the wedding day stressed out! I would rather arrive early and have a chance to look around the venue and greet the couple, their bridal party and family before I have them in front of my lens.
5. Get There with a GPS with Traffic Updates
This relates to #4, but in addition to planning an early arrival, I also have an up-to-date GPS with traffic updates. At my last wedding, I typed in the venue address and the estimated arrival time was 30 minutes before my coverage was to start. I started on my way and was then alerted to a significant traffic delay due to an interstate closure. My GPS gave me an optional route and I was able to arrive only 15 minutes late, which was still 15 minutes early.
I have the TomTom VIA 1535TM. It’s just $150 at Amazon and the peace of mind it gives me on a regular basis is PRICELESS!
Some have asked why I don’t use my cell phone for navigation. Two reasons, the first is safety. I don’t want to be taking my eyes off the road to look at my phone (though there are some good apps with turn by turn directions, so that’s only somewhat of a good reason.) The other is that I have been in some pretty remote areas with no cell phone coverage. Satellite is MUCH more reliable.
6. Stay on Track with a Schedule
I hear stories all the time of photographers who didn’t have enough time to do family or bridal party group shots, or portraits of the bride and groom. I know a very easy way to remedy such problems and that is having input into the schedule of the wedding day and having a copy of that schedule with you as you photograph the wedding.
In the absence of a wedding coordinator, I take on that role in a lot of ways, making sure that things happen on time and in order. I don’t do this because I am some kind of control freak (which I’m not!), I do it to make sure that I am able to do my BEST work at the wedding and in order to do that, I need time. If the schedule gets off because of unforeseen circumstances, I just go with the flow! Flexibility is one of a successful photographer’s most important character traits.
7. Show Up with a Second Shooter
I debated about sharing this one, because I have photographed weddings solo before, and have lots of colleagues who do not use a second shooter. That said, I do believe there is value in having another photographer at a wedding that goes beyond a second perspective.
Rewind to 2006. I was just two years into wedding photography and photographing my first big outdoor summer event. It was 98 degrees outside. I did not drink enough and I did not slow down. Following the ceremony, I was feeling hot and faint, my heart beat was thready, and I suddenly burst into tears. I was right on the verge of heat stroke. Thankfully, a family member is a football coach and knew what to do to help me recover. I was ready to have my second shooter take over for me when I came around enough to get back to work. But if I hadn’t, she could have, and that’s why I like to have another qualified photographer working with me on the wedding day.
8. You Need a Network
In recent years, I have developed a wonderful network of photographers who are not only colleagues, but good friends. I know that if (God forbid) anything were to happen to me, I would be able to find a comparably qualified photographer to take my place, and I would do the same for them. I have seen this happen many times over the years within these networks and it gives me great peace of mind. So find groups, join organizations, contact photographers you respect and build a network. It could save you and your clients a lot of stress someday!
9. Be Careful with Your Cards and Gear
Your memory cards should not leave your side until you arrive home and have them backed up (see #10 for backup strategies). Imagine if you photographed a wedding and left the cards in your bag and someone took your bag? Everything you had photographed up until that point would be gone, along with any gear you still had in your bag! I’ve seen photographers leave their bags and cards unattended at weddings and it makes me nervous for them! It would be too easy for a thief to come along unnoticed and help themselves to your precious gear.
10. Go Big with File Backup
This one is a HUGE DEAL for me. The morning after a wedding, the first thing I do is download all my cards and back them up. I am a heavy shooter, so an average wedding is about 80GB of data. It would take all week to back up those files to an online backup, so I use an external drive that is rotated off site after every wedding.
My husband and I both work from home, so we use a safe deposit box at our bank for off site backup. We have two identical drives, so when one goes into the box, the other one comes home, waiting for the next backup. Each time I update the drive, I also include all of my other types of sessions as well.
I use Backblaze to back up all of my finished JPG files. The backup takes place every night, and only backs up new files. I also use my Zenfolio account for back up by uploading full resolution files to clients’ galleries, even though they only have access to low resolution previews.
Why do I go to so much effort to make an off site backup? Well, a few years ago, I watched a home in our neighborhood burn to the ground in less than an hour. The fire was so hot, and the family got out with just the clothes on their back. There was almost nothing salvageable in the ashes of that fire. I don’t believe that your average home safe would have been strong enough to protect a hard drive from that kind of heat. The devastation I am sure I would feel over losing all my life’s possessions would be exponentially increased with the horror I would feel over losing someone’s wedding photos.
Okay, I know this has been a lot of doom and gloom for one blog post, but I don’t mind that so much. Our clients and their families are entrusting to us a very special responsibility and I believe we need to take it very seriously and do the best job we can for them. That means not just creating great images, but being professional and taking great care to deliver those images so that they can keep their wedding day memories alive for years and generations to come.