Cover Your Ass

Sometimes couples will tell you that they don’t want any posed pictures or maybe you only like to capture natural moments. In our opinion it’s worth getting a couple of safe shots to keep clients (and their parents) happy in the future. For example it’s a good idea to make sure you get one full length and one close up shot of the couple together looking at the camera and smiling. Often parents will have a whole wall of this kind of traditional formal from their own wedding or weddings of their other children and there will be a certain expectation that you’ll get this kind of shot. I joke about it with my couple and even say “Come on, let’s get the Mom shot – looking at me, smiling” – it’s often ordered for large prints by the family.

Neither Kate or I accept shot lists (except for a list of who’s who for immediate family formals) but it’s a good idea to talk to your couples before the wedding to find out if there are any images they have their heart set on so you don’t have headaches after the wedding

Red flag wedding clients

I’m a member of a number of photography forums and groups and guilds and people will often talk about the “red flag client” which can mean anything from the stereotypical bridezilla with unrealistic demands and expectations to (in my opinion) a couple who are simply overwhelmed with the wedding planning process and confused about hiring a photographer. Knowing some of the reasons why clients appear to be unreasonable can help with better communications and a more efficient process:

– The client may have a legitimate concern/question that you haven’t done a good job of explaining or answering. If you’re on email #27 then try picking up the phone and gently asking if there’s something else worrying them.

– Clients are overwhelmed and confused. Try to put yourself in their shoes. A wedding is a pretty huge event. Most couples are not event planners. They’re getting (good/bad) advice from friends, family, magazines, blogs etc etc. If they take some of the advice literally they don’t know that it can be annoying when they show up with a binder of “100 questions to ask your photographer” and a shot list of “500 pictures your photographer must get or your day will be forever ruined”. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

– They may have a close friend or sibling who has had a bad experience with another photographer – this is sadly quite common. It leads to excess concern and wanting to document everything in minute detail

– They’re spending a considerable amount of money and want to know what they’re getting for it.

– They have been told they must negotiate with all wedding vendors – see this post on negotiation and discounting for wedding photography or this post on saying no

That’s not to say there aren’t clients that you should run walk away from, here are a bunch of things that don’t usually work out so well:

– Client insists on emailing portfolios from other photographers – explain that they should hire a photographer whose work they love

– Client wants to change considerable portions of your contract without good reason – explain that any changes have to be approved by your attorney who charges $X/hour

– Client is just a mean/demanding/thoughtless person – explain you are no longer available for their date:)

I was recently going back and forth on email with a potential bride and her questions were getting longer and longer, she was asking the same thing over in different ways and the level of detail seemed a little unusual. Had I posted about this on one of the many forums I’m on, my guess is that I would have gotten a lot of advice along the lines of “Whoa! Run away! Tell her you’re no longer available or that you’re not the photographer for her!”  However, after taking the morning to think things over I decided to simply pick up the phone and speak to her. I found out that her close friend had had a very bad experience with her wedding photographer hence the concerns to document everything in minute detail. I think she felt relieved to talk about the situation and that I was happy to listen and answer her questions.

Have you had “red flag clients” that have turned out great to work with? Cool couples who’ve later turned into red flag clients? We’d love to know some of your solutions for working with more demanding clients….

How to get more second shooting gigs?

Back when I first got it into my head that I’d like to try to photograph a wedding I realized it wasn’t the smartest move to just go for it – a wedding is the kind of event you can’t just do over if you mess up. There’s no second chance. I figured second shooting would be a great way for me to understand the flow of the day, observe experienced photographers and hopefully gain some images for my portfolio. Here are some ways to find more opportunities to second shoot:

1. Craigslist
Yup – it generally sucks from a wedding photography perspective but if you really want the experience it’s a good place to start. The pay and hours are usually terrible, the weddings aren’t often the most amazing from a visual/portfolio perspective but it gets you out there and shooting. As you’ll likely be shooting with someone you don’t know, try to get clear expectations from them in terms of hours, pay, image use etc etc

2. Local photographers you don’t know
Way back when I was guilty of this – you’re so excited to get out there and shoot that you put together a generic email that’s all “Me! Me! Me!”, you fire it off to a bunch of photographers you’ve never met and then you get pissed when no one responds. I get quite a lot of those emails myself now “Hi! I want to shoot weddings! It would be great for me and my portfolio to shoot weddings with you. I am a great photographer and I need more experience. I have 2 cameras and 3 lenses. I think this would be a great experience for me…” you get the idea. I’ll always try to write a polite note back but if you really want to second shoot then I’d suggest putting a little time and effort into your communications. Take a look at their website, find people who have a somewhat similar style to you or how you want to shoot, send them a personalized email (spelling and grammar count!) and explain why this might be great for them. I’m not a proponent of working for free but I would offer to second shoot for free for photographers whose work I admired in the hopes that they would be sufficiently impressed and ask me to shoot for them again

3. Local photographers you do know
Photographers are a pretty sociable bunch. I know I’m 500% more likely to hire a second shooter that I’ve actually met in person so I know they’re not a complete weirdo. Go to local networking meetings, go a local conference, suggest meeting up in person with some of your facebook photographer friends. Posting a “Hi! I want to second shoot!” isn’t really specific enough and you’re assuming people will take the time to check out your work/your about me and see if you’re a good fit. Be specific – my style is X, I love shooting Y type of weddings, I’m friendly and polite, I am happy to do groom’s coverage while you do whatever” makes people more likely to pay attention.

4. Ask for feedback, listen and take it on board
If you’re really open and prepared to listen, it can be amazingly valuable to ask the primary photographer for feedback. If you’re never asked back to second shoot it may be because there’s something annoying you do on the wedding day. I’ve even gone through second shooters images with them if they’re open to critique afterwards.

If you’re a primary wedding photographer do you ever second shoot? Think back to when you first started out – how did you find second shooting gigs?

How to be a better second shooter

This is going to be a two-part tips post. Coming up tomorrow will be tips on getting more second shooting work so make sure to check back at 11am EST

When I first started photographing weddings I second shot for anyone who would take me for about 3 months, it was a fascinating time seeing how other photographers interacted with clients and ran their businesses. I like to second shoot at least once or twice a year now as I still find it a valuable experience.

1. Be on the same page
It’s important to have clear expectations from the primary photographer about a bunch of things but especially:
a) Hours and pay
b) Image use – are you shooting on their cards? Are you responsible for post-processing (unusual but some photographers ask for this)? Can you use images in your portfolio? On your blog? On facebook? Everyone has different policies so find out in advance.
c) Is there any assisting work required (setting up lights/carrying bags) or is it purely second shooting?
d) Is the primary photographer good with you asking questions throughout the day (applies more to newer photographers) or do they prefer to keep this kind of chat to your dinner break
e) Is there is dress code?

2. Check your ego at the door
When you’re second shooting it’s a great time to see how someone else works. It’s awesome if a second shooter points out that the Father of the Bride’s boutonniere is upside down (helpful advice) but can be annoying if they’re questioning your lighting technique/suggesting alternate shots. Equally, the clients have likely hired the primary photographer for their specific style so unless requested by the primary it’s usually best not to try to set up shots, pose the couple, interfere with the job

3. They’re not your clients/it’s not your wedding
You are representing the primary photographer who has likely worked hard to book the wedding/build relationships with the clients and other vendors. Don’t bring or pass out your own business cards. Don’t encourage the couple to friend you on facebook. Don’t put together a sample album for the venue. Shocking but I’ve had second shooters do all of these (my bad for not setting clear expectations in the past). Most importantly be polite to the couple, their families and other guests.

4. Be a team player
If you’ve ever shot your own wedding you’ll know how crazy things can get. It’s awesome if you feel your second photographer who has your back – from grabbing you a glass of water to spotting that lens you left on the back pew of the church. Let’s say the primary photographer has asked you to take candids of guests at cocktail hour – of course you’d rather be out on the golf course taking killer pictures of the wedding party – but that’s not why you’re there.

5. Listen to requests/instructions
If the primary photographer asks you to do/not do something there’s usually a really good reason. Even if you would normally do this at your own wedding you’re not at your own wedding. The primary photographer may have information you don’t know about – photography restrictions in church, specific shot requests from the clients etc etc – it’s really helpful to listen and act accordingly

6. Sync your cameras with the primary!

7.  Anticipate
One of the things that truly makes a stellar second photographer in my opinion is when they’re paying attention to the primary photographer and acting accordingly. If the primary is on one side of the church during the vows and the second can see they’re shooting landscape with a 70-200mm, it’s awesome to get the same shot from the exact opposite side of the church. Conversely during the first dance, if the primary is shooting long with the 70-200mm it can be great for the second to get some wide shots. Pay attention to what the parents/grandparents/siblings of the couple look like during the ceremony – if the primary is shooting the couple and the speaker during toasts, try to get some great reaction shots of close family and friends

8. Stay out of the shot!!!
This seems obvious but if you’re usually a primary photographer it can be quite a challenge to remind yourself that you need to be conscious not to get in the shot. Be aware of their position/angle at all times and move quickly.

9. Alert the primary photographer if you have an issue.
Of course, use your common sense here but if you have an equipment problem or you’re really struggling with lighting something ask them if they have a second to help you. They’ll probably prefer to help for a few minutes vs. get unusable images

10. Make it count!
Unless the primary photographer has tasked you with getting the “safe” or must have shots eg. the kiss, the ring exchange, second shooting gives you a little more flexibility and time in composing your images and watching for the best expressions. I’d rather have 200 amazing images vs. 1000 “over my shoulder” duplicate images.


When it is the right time to raise my prices?

I think this is a really common question for wedding photographers. In your first year of business you’re all “Whooo! Just booked a wedding for $1500!!!” and then you quickly realize after expenses and taxes you’ll probably be earning less than minimum wage when you consider the hours of client communication, shooting, processing, album design etc.

If you’re considering raising your prices it’s very important to understand your business costs of course and then I’d suggest thinking about the following things (in no particular order):

1. How many weddings do I need to cover my basic business costs and living expenses? Let’s say you know that you need to do 15 weddings a year to cover these costs but you can comfortably do 25 weddings (considering your work life balance of course!) then once you have 15 weddings booked for the year consider raising your prices.

2. Take an honest look at your work. Is there an area you feel you could significantly improve? Often we hold off on raising our prices because we think our work isn’t good enough to charge $xxx. In my first year or so I didn’t love the way I did my reception lighting and I worried if I got a wedding in a fancy ballroom my lighting wouldn’t be good enough. So I spent over 6 months taking workshops, watching DVDs, reading online articles, buying books on lighting, setting up various lighting scenarios in my kitchen until I felt comfortable that I could go into any wedding venue and get beautiful reception lighting. That was the kick I needed to raise my prices. Be brutally honest with yourself here.

3. Spend some time looking at your inquiries and the drop off rate (clients who disappear after the initial email) and your client meetings and booking rate. If you’re barely getting enough inquiries to meet your basic business and living costs it’s probably not a good time to raise prices – you might want to work on getting more inquiries instead! But if you could have booked every date from June – September three times over it’s time to raise prices!

4. Figure out a price increase method that you’re comfortable with:
Incremental – raising your prices $x per booking
Annual – raising your prices a certain % each year or 6 months
Transformational – raising your prices by 50 or 100% (really only advisable if you have amazing inquiries and they’re all booking you)
Or a combination of the above methods….remember it’s your price list and you can increase it at any time

5. Finally, I think it helps to remember that professional photography is a luxury item and you don’t have to be able to afford yourself. Remind yourself that you are a small business owner and you deserve to have savings, a pension and health insurance just as much as your clients!

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