photographers, what is your back-up plan?

You can’t really see it in this photo taken from the lounge at this small airfield in Wisconsin, but the snow was coming down hard there.  Hard enough to cause flight delays and cancellations.  However, en route to the airport, the snow was only falling lightly, so I wasn’t concerned at the time.  After all, this is just a few weeks away from the start of Summer.

I had presented a week-long workshop in Wisconsin as part of the Wisconsin Professional Photographers School at Treehaven, and was due to fly back home to New Jersey on Friday afternoon.  I absolutely had to get home sometime that Friday night, since I had a wedding the next day that I was photographing.  So when the progression of flight delays and cancellations were announced, it was soon obvious I would miss my connecting flight in Minneapolis.  This was enough reason for a mild state of panic – at some point I knew I would be late for the wedding the next day.

But I had my iPhone with me.  Of course.  I have this thing clutched in my left hand most of the day anyway. But I digress.  I had the contact info of all my photographer friends in New Jersey.  I sent out text messages to a few of them, hoping someone would have the day open to help me out.  A few were even willing to change the times of their existing photo shoots to help me out.  However, my friend Geri Nelson was free on the day and immediately offered to help out.  Better yet, she lives in the same town as the bride and myself.  I phoned my bride, and left a phone message with her.  And then I finalized details with Geri.  From the timing it looked like I would be able to join the wedding at the start of the ceremony.  Which meant I would rely on Geri to cover the bride’s preparation.  But, just to be sure in case of more hiccups, I told Geri to be prepared to shoot the entire wedding.

The flight left at 7:30 pm that Friday night, and I over-nighted in Minneapolis. The next morning then was a mad dash to get home from the airport, and grab the rest of my equipment before heading out to photograph the wedding.  I did arrive just before the ceremony, and easily got into the swing of events. Geri stayed with me through the ceremony and portrait session, and I continued until the end of the wedding reception.  I was also fortunate that I had a couple that was easy-going and very cool about it all.

The point to this rambling anecdote?
When trouble hit, I had a system of back-ups in place, whether formal or informal …

1. I had all relevant info on hand.

Via my iPhone, I had contact details, phone numbers and addresses.  I had my calendar available to me.  I could check flight details via an iPhone app.  (Flight Track Pro, if you’re interested.)

You may well ask, what if I had lost my iPhone?  I have everything synched online via my MobileMe account.  I can’t rely on just one device.  So either way I would somehow be able to get to what I needed to know.

2. I knew I could rely on a network of photographer friends to help me out.

That is the contradiction – the very photographers that I compete with in my business as a wedding photographer, are some of the people that I can immediately rely on to help me out in an emergency.  And I know they will gladly help me, as I would help them in similar situations.

A multi-shooter studio could easily swap out shooters when needed, but as individual business owners / photographers, we need a network of friends.  We refer overflow work to each other.  And we help each other with advice and support.  The network can be an informal one – everyone surely has friends – or a more formally established one, such as the Group of 10 that I belong to.

So a back-up plan in photography doesn’t necessarily just mean equipment back-ups; or how you back-up and archiving digital files; or that you absolutely need equipment and business insurance … a back-up plan is also about how you deal with problems in case you deal with unforeseen events.

Our friends over in Europe had an unhealthy dose of this recently when that volcano-with-the-unpronounceable-name soured everyone’s lives there.  I am sure they have stories to tell!

13 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1Tony says

    Hi Neil, what arrangements do you make to compensate your ‘backup’ shooters in situations like this? Do they do it for free on the basis that you’d cover them under similar circumstances?

  2. 2 says

    Tony .. yes, I would absolutely pay someone who helped me out. In turn, I would have expected payment. A friend might be helping me out, but they do need to be compensated.

    In this case, I paid Geri a fee somewhere between what I normally pay a second photographer for partial coverage, and what I’d pay for a full day.

    Neil vN

  3. 4 says

    It sounds like you originally allotted a half-day buffer between you arriving back in NJ and the wedding on the following day. The weather pretty much consumed that buffer.

    Is it normal in your occupation to schedule events so closely? It did not appear that there was huge buffer to begin with.

    It’s good to hear these stories from you to show that wedding photography is not an easy profession.

  4. 5Neil vN says

    Stephen, no, I don’t normally do the “fly by the seat of my pants” thing.

    But there are times that events are close together. Presenting a week-long class for a PPA group, and photographing a wedding – both those are tough to decline. I do need to pay the rent, you know. But I’m not careless and definitely don’t have a carefree attitude about this. I’m very serious about my work.

    What would be an acceptable buffer? An extra day? Sure. It just wasn’t quite available this time. :)

    Neil vN

  5. 6john says

    This is a great lesson to learn early on! I was wondering Do you or your backup shooter do the editing on the there photos??


  6. 7Neil vN says

    John .. this relates more to the recent post on second shooters at weddings. (A back-up photographer, as in this case, is, hopefully, a rare occurrence.)

    My assistant and I do all the editing of the RAW files. It’s not of much help if the second photographer edits the wedding for me, since our styles and preferences for the images may look vastly different. Besides, I’m not going to use all the images from the 2nd photographer. I am going to pick from their images those which will augment my own.

    Neil vN

  7. 8Anggi says

    I’ve been wondering for sometime, how do you take portrait pictures and still able to control where you bounce your flash?
    I find it very limited to my left side only.

  8. 9 says

    Hi Neil,
    Regarding your response May 10, 2010 @ 2:49 pm. Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you with my comment. In retrospect, it was an insensitive comment, because I didn’t really think about the events in context of your career. An offer to present at PPA is something you can’t pass up easily. Likewise, a paid wedding assignment is necessary for you to earn a living.

    And yes, I was thinking of a one-day buffer between events, but as you said, you don’t always have that opportunity to space events out. I’ve never really thought about the life of a professional photographer (essentially a freelancer) and the choices/compromises that have to be made. You make it look easy, but there is a lot of hard work behind the scenes.


  9. 10mike says

    well it goes to show you that the good, really good photogs are busy, its a nice “luxury” to go from one event directly to another

  10. 11Frisco Texas Senior Photographer says

    Your Flash Photography seminar was a great place for me to make a few extra photog friends, and extend my network of back-up options, thanks for that Neil (and the knowledge you dropped that day as well)! Thankfully I have never had to use a back-up, or be one for that matter, but it’s a good feeling (and selling point) to have them.

    Exchange server with the iPhone for email and contacts is how I roll, I know not everyone can admin their own server, but I have that “luxury”. Though my support and IT department (me) can be very slow to respond at times. for my files, anyone using an external SATA RAID solution? That’s on my list of things to look into. Right now it’s just a manual copy to a second HDD and let Mozy pick it up over night.

    -Tyler R. Brown

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