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5 Safety Nets Every Wedding Photographer Needs

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This post is part of a series called Wedding Photography.
Master the Toughest Parts of Shooting Weddings
Inside the Camera Bag: Wedding and Commercial Photography Kit

Weddings are a tremendous expense for a couple, and as the hired wedding photographer, the weight of capturing it as beautifully as possible is a serious job. As with any job, random catastrophes can hinder how we perform. However, with some safety nets in place, it is possible to capture the day without fear.


1. A Solid Contract

I say that if a client has to ask you a question after signing your contract, it means that your contract wasn’t thorough enough. In other words, you didn’t verbally explain what your client must need to know.

Friends always sign contracts, no matter how close to you the friend might be. If one of the two parties is missing a signature, send another contract and do not continue until both parties have signed.

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In your contract, include a model release and clearly explain the rights to images. For example, I grant my clients personal rights, but I maintain the copyright to use for any marketing or promotional materials without their consent or providing payment. This is common practice.

This will clear up any confusion should you be approached by a vendor or company asking to use an image you took to feature in their marketing campaign. You might not think this could happen, but it very well could.

I have had clients, who are lawyers, want to modify my contract. I don’t dismiss the idea, instead, I am very open and willing to hear why. I nicely explain that my contract isn’t in place to put my clients at a disadvantage, but to protect myself should anything go wrong. Then I proceed to read what they’d like to modify.

Often I find clients who wish to modify contracts are fearful from a bad experience in the past or a dislike of wording of who is in control. If I find their modifications are reasonable and won’t hinder my job because I plan on fulfilling my obligation, I see no problem in making the requested changes.

These contract items may not suit every photographer, but I am always willing to listen and make my clients feet at ease, even if it means they pay the final balance to me when I arrive the day of their wedding instead of two weeks prior.


2. Equipment and Liability Insurance Policy

A camera body, good lenses, compact flash cards, it all adds up. Consider getting an insurance policy for photographers, specifically to insure your equipment, should it get stolen or anything goes wrong. You should also consider a policy convering any liability issues that can occur while shooting a wedding or any session for that matter.

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Yearly coverage can cost as low as $500. However, many high-end venues require proof that participating vendors have a $1 million business liability and medical expenses coverage, which may cost more. You can also break up the payment by paying bi-yearly, or in some cases, you can add a business policy to your homeowner's insurance, in which case, it would be a monthly payment.

This keeps your mind at ease should any equipment get run over by a car or stolen. It can also protect you from any lawsuits if a light stand falls on someone. As with auto and home insurance, read what your coverage includes to make sure you are paying for what you need.


3. A Back Up Camera and Batteries

Having an extra camera body is important for your events. I’ve heard horror stories where a camera shutter had just died, or for some unknown reason, a camera freezes. During a wedding, you don’t want to miss a beat, so having something you can grab right away is a must, especially when it comes to your camera.

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Your backup camera doesn’t need to be the same model, or the second latest model, it just needs to be good enough to delivery the quality your clients expect from you, quality you can be proud of. I shoot with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and my backup camera is the classic 5D.

It’s still full-frame and sharp. I am not too concerned about the more restrictive ISO quality because I primarily shoot in well-lit situations and if I use a flash during reception, I would keep my ISO low anyway.

If you don’t have a backup camera, consider renting one just for the day. Just be sure you have tested it and created any necessary custom settings so it matches what you're used to working with.

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Bring extra charged or new batteries for your flash, and in case your camera's battery pack goes dead. Some battery grips have the option to also use AA batteries, and buying that adapter can really save the day if your shoot ends up lasting longer than expected.

Always start every wedding off with new or recently fully-charged batteries. Rechargeable batteries lose their charge even while they're being stored, so charge them before the event. You don’t want to miss the first dance when the batteries fail in the remote flash across the room.

Don’t risk using batteries you think you used for a few minutes for a session prior, instead, recycle them for the TV remote.


4. A Substitute Photographer

I once came down with the flu the day before an event I volunteered to capture. Instead of simply cancelling my services to the organization, I knew it should be my job to also find a replacement at the last minute. I asked a good friend of mine, a professional, and she had an open schedule and was open to volunteering for the event. Gratitude doesn’t summarize how I felt.

Having a network of peers in the same market should you come down with a sickness, or have an emergency, is imperative. You’ll be thankful to know that while you handle your life issues, that your clients won’t be without a trusty photographer to capture the moment. Make your friends now and ask if they can cover events if you get sick.

Having a substitute photographer usually mean being a substitute photographer. You'll find a couple photographers you trust, and then work out a deal where they'll covering emergencies for you, and you'll cover emergencies for them.

Consider including this disclaimer in your contract as well. Word it to explain that should you be unavailable, a prescreened and highly recommended professional photographer will step in to capture the day, with final edits by you to ensure they receive the same style of photography.

You can also choose to refund the couple for the event, should it come down to this and they decide to not use a substitute photographer. However, we’ll assume that you’d only decide to withdrawal at a moment’s notice therefore not giving your client’s enough time to scramble for another professional photographer.

Therefore, during the contract signing time, explain what would happen and their options to make sure they feel at ease knowing no matter what, they will have some one cover their day that is trustworthy.

Keep in mind, a substitute photographer is different than a second shooter. However, it can be same person if you feel his or her skills are up to your standards.


5. A Solid Second Shooter

While it is your job as the lead photographer to capture the moments, having a second photographer that has a good eye and good equipment is now a common safety net employed by professionals. A second shooter can be there to capture a second perspective as you pose your subjects, offering a unique candid moment.

Moments are gone in seconds and having a good second shooter who can act as backup should your card get full or you’re switching lenses and perhaps happen to miss something, will put your mind at ease.

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Keeping your second shooters happy is hard work. If they're producing images at the same level as you, why wouldn't they just go off on their own? You need to make the deal good for them. Find out what matters to them. It may be protecting them in your contracts. You may handle the editing and post-production of their images. You could give them access to your own high end lighting gear. You could even help them pay for equipment.

I had a very dependable second shooter who had a great eye and a style that complimented mine. The issue was that she wasn’t too interested in spending thousands on a camera for a weekend hobby of second shooting, understandably. However, I wasn’t ready to let her go because of her equipment. I proposed the idea of her selling her current camera body and I would split the cost in the difference to upgrade her to something better. This was an investment for me as well, to keep a talented second shooter on board.


Conclusion

A wedding photographer can never be overly prepared. If you fear something might happen, consider ways you can prevent it from occurring, whether it’s through clarification or preparation beforehand.

Prepare professional contracts, insure your equipment against theft and yourself against medical and liability claims, pack extra cameras and batteries, and have a network of other photographers to utilize in case of emergencies and as second shooters.

If you build this foundation of back ups and safety nets, you'll find yourself much more relaxed and able to focus on the job at hand, actually making photographs!

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