A Wedding Photographer’s Emergency Backup Plan

Scroll through any guide to choosing and interviewing a wedding photographer, and you'll find a pretty standard list of questions. These lists are everywhere! There's one on every wedding planning blog, in every fancy-covered bridal planner in the gift aisle, and probably in one out of four or five wedding magazines you'll see on the rack. And with good reason: there is a LOT to consider when hiring a wedding photographer. When's the last time you hired a professional camera-slinger to document you and your closest 200 friends and family having a good time? Yeah, probably not something you do very often. Guidance is helpful in making this decision!

One of the most important questions on there is this one:

what happens if you're unable to be with us on our wedding day?

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As a photographer, I used to bristle up a little bit when I heard this question. What would I do? I'm a one-woman shop. My clients hire me for me. Well, also for quality photography of course- but part of the reason they hire me is that they trust me. No matter what I do, however, emergencies happen. Whether it's a sickness, a car accident, a major family emergency, or any number of other urgent situations- disaster can strike anyone. So I'd better have an in-case-of-emergency plan, right? Absolutely. And I do.

Now, let me say this: I have to be pretty darn ill to step down and hand over your wedding day to anyone else. In fact I have learned over the past several years that I can do a rockin' job at a wedding with the assistance of DayQuil, ibuprofen, cough drops, and a five-hour-energy (or two). When I feel like I'm getting sick before a wedding, I rest up. I prepare. I force myself to do everything I can to be as well as possible for a very important day. And that has always been enough...

Until just recently. Bug & Alex had hired me to photograph their intimate, well-styled, and brief wedding ceremony with their closest family at 2:00 in the afternoon. I was excited! I love an elopement-style event. I knew Bug was wearing this stunning Rent the Runway gown that I was dying to shoot, since I'm wearing the same one in May in navy blue for my SIL's wedding. I'm a freak for anything covered in sparkles. I knew we were going to have a really nice chunk of the afternoon just for portraits- YAY! I loved the locations we were going to use and had a whole bunch of inspiring ideas swimming around in my brain. I was truly excited, the way I am before all my weddings.

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And then, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning feeling, well, icky. I couldn't pinpoint what it was, but I slowly started to fear that it wasn't going to be good. I laid awake pleading with my body to just go back to normal, feel fine, there's a wedding in a few short hours! But it didn't listen. I. Was. Sick. By the time 6:30am rolled around, I was huddled under a huge blanket on the couch with shivers and body aches and, well, other symptoms. I checked the clock and counted the hours I had left, trying to calculate the odds of a miraculous recovery and second-guessing myself. Was I really that bad? What could really happen? Maybe I'll be fine in a few hours. Maybe I could just avoid eating all day...because yeah, that would make me a real fun person to have around on your wedding day (where's the sarcasm font when you need it?).

Eventually I came to my senses and sprang to action. Well, in this case "springing" was more like "feebly poking at my phone until I had pulled up my go-to Facebook group." My trusty peers, otherwise known as the largest Facebook group of photographers in Wisconsin. This is a community of over 800 professional, aspiring, and hobbyist shooters. Most everyone lives in Wisconsin, although we have a couple of members who have moved away but still come back to shoot the occasional wedding. Everyone who participates regularly in the discussions is positive, upbeat, and helpful. It is truly a safe community where everyone can participate, and you can find just about anything! We ask questions and share advice, clue everyone in to deals, refer one another to great products and services, seek and sell gear, find assistants and second shooters, share wedding referrals when we're booked, and organize gatherings and fun stuff. They are really a wonderful group of people.

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The best part of this group, however, is my answer to that question at the beginning of this post. So, that conversation goes a little like this:

You: "So, what happens if you're sick on our wedding day?"

Me: "That's a really good question, and here in Wisconsin we have a great answer. You see, there's this group, and they've got my back. All I have to do is share a post with 800 or so of my closest photographer friends! From there, anyone who is available will get in touch to let me know they're available. From that group, I will choose the person who is the best fit and most able to give you a comparable experience to working with me. I'll take care of all the details to compensate them for their time and get them ready to cover your day by sharing all the important information that we've prepared together. My second shooter will still be by your side and able to make sure that the little things I'd normally do are communicated to your main shooter. Your package will remain exactly the same, and I'll continue to work with you after the wedding to complete everything the same way I normally would."

Even though replacing myself as your photographer is an absolutely last resort, it is something that can happen to any independent photographer. While some companies are larger and have several shooters who might be able to jump in on short notice, most of us are running the show solo and this is a reasonable risk. No photographer can guarantee that they won't have the flu, or a burst appendix, or a car accident! It is our job to provide an acceptable backup plan in case of an illness or emergency. Our goal when this happens is to provide you with as best a backup as we can find. Someone who will be on top of their game. Even some personal situations, like a death in the family, can render a physically capable photographer mentally stressed and distracted, leaving them unable to focus their usual attention on your wedding.

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So what if you find yourself in this situation? I can tell you that it's probably not going to be the best feeling in the world when you receive that phone call, text, or email. You might feel stressed, upset, or angry at the circumstances. And understandably! You don't want anything going wrong on this important day, and a last minute switch to a photographer you don't know is a pretty big unexpected hiccup. It may be tough to do, but my advice is to trust your photographer. Remember- this is hard for them to do. They're likely feeling a little guilty, worrying about what you're going to think, wishing they weren't causing you any unneeded distress. Take a deep breath and know that they are doing this because they have your best interest in mind.

Embrace your replacement photographer, and communicate with them throughout the day. Talk to them about details that you discussed in your meetings and planning with the person you hired. Give them room to work in their way, but let them know what is important to you. Share with them any shot lists you had prepared, maybe let them scroll through your Pinterest page on your phone while your hair stylist finishes up. Enjoy your day and have fun!

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So back to Bug & Alex's wedding day. Here's how it went down. At 6:22am, I posted a plea for help in our group. I included the start time and location, a few details, and promised to check back online in an hour. I then emailed Bug and let her know that I wasn't certain yet, but I was sick and was seeking a potential replacement for myself. I was so relieved at her response, because she was incredibly understanding! She said that she trusted my judgment and appreciated that I was taking action and being realistic about my limits. I kept in touch with her throughout the morning. By 8:20am, I had talked with a good 3-4 photographers whose work I would have easily trusted and who were willing and able to cover me. I felt so much better by that point that I was able to sleep a couple of hours before making a final call.

When I couldn't shake the body aches, chills, and nausea, I knew it was going to be better for my couple if I stayed home.  By noon, the bride and groom knew that my friend Jerrad Hamilton and my second shooter, Graydon, would be covering me. I pouted a little over the shots I had imagined with the two of them. I sent Jerrad some images from my own portfolio that represented what I had discussed with the couple. I connected Jerrad and Graydon over text so they could communicate when they arrived at the location. Graydon came to my house to pick up some memory cards, and both of the guys opted to arrive a little early, which just added to my ability to relax! When the wedding was over, the cards were dropped back off at my house and I had everything in my hands. I was able to post a few peeks a couple days later when I was recovered.

I still want to work with Bug & Alex, so my personal decision was to offer them a portrait session at a later date. I did this before the wedding, and I guess it was my way of reassuring them that even if they didn't get exactly what they expected on the wedding day, we would do our best to make up for it later. This might not be something that all photographers are able to offer, but for me it was what felt right. Once I saw the images that were created by my awesome backup team, though, I was happy. I felt entirely comfortable with the quality of work that was done, and I will be forever grateful for the Wisconsin photographers in my community who jumped in to serve my clients and I.

If you're a Wisconsin bride or groom, let me assure you that you are in good hands. I don't know what it's like in other states- but it's pretty great here! The photographers I've come to know over the past several years have really made an impression on me with their kindness, generosity, and friendliness. They take care of one another. It's a group I am proud to be a part of. And I'm not the only one who has benefited from this community- I've stepped in when I've been able to help out, too, as have so many others.

In fact, click here to check out a wedding where another photographer and I were able to jump to the rescue in an emergency!

So if you aren't here in our glorious Wisco crowd, what is your professional backup plan? I'd love to hear what other people do, and I know that sharing about this will only build confidence in our clients' minds. Share away!