What if, on the day you are scheduled to shoot a wedding, you're outside looking for your cat. Suddenly, you slip and fall, breaking your ankle. Worst part is, this happens two hours before your scheduled wedding? You are sure the ankle is broken. What do you do?
To answer this, I bring you the power of networking. As photographers, we should all have a strong group of local photographers we network with. You're already in a network if you meet up with other photographers for a drink, call other photographers for advice or second shoot for other photographers for fun. You're also in a network if you pass referrals among each other. These are the people in your network. Write their names down on a list and keep that list handy. You just never know when you'll need it. Think about it right now: You broke your ankle and your wedding is in 2 hours - who do you call? Don't laugh - this happened to me back in September 2007.
In an instant you should be able to pick up your phone and dial 10 photographers you trust in the area. I know in my area we are all so willing to help each other out in the case of an emergency.
So, now you've found someone to cover the wedding, but what do you pay them? Before they run out the door to your wedding, you should probably get down to the nitty gritty details of finances. If they are going to just shoot and burn the wedding, you should pay them what you might pay someone to contract out the wedding. If they are going to shoot and edit the wedding, they should probably receive about 70% of the wedding commission. You should take the remaining 30% to put towards covering album expenses and administrative costs you will have on your end. If they are going to take over the contract in full, they should receive 95% of the commission. The remaining 5% should be put towards the administrative costs you have had up to the date of the wedding.
If they are a good friend, they will most likely refuse any payment you offer. You should pay them SOMETHING, even if you only take them to dinner or buy them a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. You could also just file away the "favor" for a later date. In my situation, I paid what I could did a 'Shoot and Burn' for everyone that shot for me. They were all very good friends, and making money wasn't the reason for helping me. My friends wanted to help because accidents happen, and I was totally helpless in giving the bride the wedding memories for deserved. This question from brides always pops up: "What happens if you die before my wedding?" The story of the photographer that broke her ankle now circles the Boston photography network.
In every contract you should have something that states, if you have an emergency that prevents you from shooting the wedding, you are allowed to transfer the contract over to another qualified shooter. It is your responsibility to determine who you think is a responsible and capable photographer. Some photographers have mentioned clients don't like that contract clause, as they want to be able to pick their photographer out. In situations where you have a few days, I'd be okay with letting the bride choose a photographer from a list. However, you should make it clear that, if two hours from a wedding you break your leg, their might be slim pickings on a Saturday. You need to set clear expectations of what CAN happen. You need to explain you aren't just going to abandon their wedding because your favorite team made it to the World Series.
You should also let someone in your family know what to do if "something" happened in the event you are not able to speak. For example, in the address book on my iPhone, I have a list of only photographer names in a contact group called, "Photographers". My husband and other family members know, in the event I am unable to speak, to go down the list and contact photographers for upcoming weddings. These same people also know where I keep my wedding files. In the case of an emergency, my system is not hard to figure out. The folders are categorized by wedding date and the couple?s name listed. Inside those files are all the contact numbers they will need to find my bride(s).
In a heart beat someone could transfer all those weddings over to another photographer and that photographer can pick up where I left off. The key is to have a plan, while making your filing system easy and organized as well as having a strong network of local photographers.
Thanks Alicia for being such a love cat and writing up this amazing and compelling article! Be sure to add her blog http://cordelephotography.blogspot.com/ to your blogroll.
For more information on preparing yourself for difficult times, see Anne's June 08 entry on creating a business back-up plan! http://photolovecat.blogspot.com/2008/06/creating-backup-plan.html